My friends, we have just shared with each other Jesus’ Passion and Death according to John, the beloved apostle. John’s gospel is always used on Good Friday because it gives us a different focus than the other accounts from Matthew, Mark and Luke. We remember from Palm Sunday and Luke’s passion account that his focus was placed not so much on the detail of the suffering, but more on its meaning for each of us as depicted in Paul’s reading to the Philippians—“his state was divine, yet he did not cling to it, but became as each one of us.”
In John’s account today, we simply heard Jesus say, in regard to his own personal needs, “I am thirsty.” His concern isn’t for himself but for his apostles—that they would be set free, or more poignantly, from John’s priestly prayer of Jesus that they could learn to “all be one” and not just with each other, but with all others as they would later share his message to “love God and their neighbors as themselves.” When Jesus does die, the account says, he simply “gives up his spirit.” We very much get the impression that John is trying to give; of Jesus being in control of all that is happening to him. He had the power to avail himself to what would be asked of him and he accepted his fate with no complaint. As Isaiah said in the first reading; “he did not cry out, even though he was badly abused.”
And even with all the suffering Jesus was asked to bear, we see only the silence with which he carried himself, so the silence built into today’s service is very appropriate. Isaiah gives the truth to this notion as well—“you were like a lamb led to slaughter and didn’t open your mouth.” John’s account does not include the purely human moments of the Last Supper or the agony in the garden.
John shows us Jesus as one who suffers, yes, but one who is truly the high priest spoken of today in the letter to the Hebrews—one who stands with us and loves us in all our weaknesses, continually calling us to more.
John’s purpose it would seem is to let us know that Jesus freely accepted his death and did not struggle against it—he lived his human existence constantly showing us how we must live and accepted the consequences in his time for living a life demanding justice for all.
Today, I purposely shortened Isaiah’s reading, leaving off the last 5 verses as these concentrate on a God who apparently “needs” reparation for the sins of humankind. I believe many within our Church, theologians included have moved beyond a God who would ask such a price from a son. This type of God was not the God that Jesus preached about when he spoke of the Prodigal returning to his father’s waiting arms or the Good Shepherd who left the 99 in search of the one lost.
No, as Irish priest, Tony Flannery said a few years back and I paraphrase, we need a new theology for Holy Week! You will remember that Tony Flannery lost his faculties to serve as a priest in Irish Catholic churches due to his support for women priests.
So, the evangelist, John, further tells us that because Jesus freely chooses death, he can just as freely choose life—the new life of the resurrection. Jesus knew that his actions, his speech, declaring justice for all, speaking against the practices of his Jewish faith and the state of Rome would cause him to pay the highest price for his so-called treason—death on a cross.
So, we need not look for someone to blame; God, the Jews, the Romans. Jesus chose life to the fullest, living from his heart mostly and he paid the price for not going along with the status quo, for not keeping silent.
So, my friends, while this is a sad day when we remember our brother’s suffering, and not for our sins, but that we might follow him ever more closely, it is a day to begin in small part, rejoicing for the gift that he gave us, so completely in his life, death and resurrection. Because you see, we can’t think about his dying without remembering his rising. His death carries no meaning without the hope of his rising. And I’ll leave it there for today—–