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Readings & Reflection for GOOD FRIDAY April 2, 2021

This passage from Isaiah was written probably 700 years before the time of Jesus. Can you count the number of links in it which seem to describe ways we think of Jesus?

Isaiah 52:13-53:12      

See, my servant shall prosper; he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high.  Just as there were many who were astonished at him--so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of mortals-  so he shall startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which had not been told them they shall see, and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate. Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?  For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account. Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By a perversion of justice he was taken away. Who could have imagined his future?  For he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people. They made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.       Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him with pain. When you make his life an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days; through him the will of the LORD shall prosper. Out of his anguish he shall see light; he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge. The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

Psalm22 was written by King David, probably about 700 or 800 years before Jesus was born.  Most likely he was using dramatic images to describe his own anguish ~ yet don’t you think his words portray what we might imagine to be Jesus’ actual thoughts and feelings on the cross?

Psalm 22

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest. Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame. But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people. All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads and say: "Commit your cause to the LORD; let him deliver-- let him rescue the one in whom he delights!" Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother's breast. On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God. Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help. Many bulls encircle me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me; they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death. For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me. My hands and feet have shriveled; I can count all my bones. They stare and gloat over me;  they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots. But you, O LORD, do not be far away! O my help, come quickly to my aid! Deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the power of the dog! Save me from the mouth of the lion! From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me. I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you: You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him. From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him. The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD. May your hearts live forever! All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him. For dominion belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations. To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him. Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord,  and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.

Hebrews 10:16-25 (written to encourage people to trust God, because of Jesus’ life and death for us)

"This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds," he also adds, "I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more." Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus,  by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh),  and since we have a great priest over the house of God,  let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.  And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

John 18:1-19:42  (This is written as an eyewitness account, by John the disciple)      

After Jesus had spoken (in the upper room), he went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with his disciples.  So Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked, "Whom are you looking for?"  They answered, "Jesus of Nazareth." Jesus replied, "I am he." Judas, who betrayed him, stood with them.  When Jesus said to them, "I am he," they stepped back and fell to the ground. Again he asked them, "Whom are you looking for?" And they said, "Jesus of Nazareth." Jesus answered, "I told you that I am he. So if you are looking for me, let these men go." This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken, "I did not lose a single one of those whom you gave me."        

Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest's slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave's name was Malchus. Jesus said to Peter, "Put your sword away. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?"  So the soldiers, their officer, and the Jewish police arrested Jesus and bound him. 

First they took him to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year.  Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was better to have one person die for the people. Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter was standing outside at the gate. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and brought Peter in.  The woman said to Peter, "You are not also one of this man's disciples, are you?" He said, "I am not." Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing around it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself. 

Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. Jesus answered, "I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said." When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, "Is that how you answer the high priest?"  Jesus answered, "If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why strike me?"  Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.

Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, "You are not also one of his disciples, are you?" He denied it and said, "I am not."   One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, "Did I not see you in the garden with him?"  Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed.      

Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate's headquarters. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate went out to them and said, "What accusation do you bring against this man?"  They answered, "If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you."  Pilate said to them, "Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law." The Jews replied, "We are not permitted to put anyone to death."  (This was to fulfill what Jesus had said about the kind of death he was to die.)  Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?"  Jesus answered, "Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?"  Pilate replied, "I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?" Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here." Pilate asked him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."  Pilate asked him, "What is truth?"

After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, "I find no case against him. But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?" They shouted in reply, "Not this man, but Barabbas!" Now Barabbas was a bandit.  Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged.  And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" and striking him on the face. Pilate went out again and said to them, "Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him." So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, "Here is the man!"      

When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, "Crucify him! Crucify him!" Pilate said to them, "Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him."  The Jews answered him, "We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God." Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, "Where are you from?" But Jesus gave him no answer.  Pilate therefore said to him, "Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?" Jesus answered him, "You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin."        

From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, "If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor."  When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge's bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover, about noon. He said to the Jews, "Here is your King!"  They cried out, "Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!" Pilate asked them, "Shall I crucify your King?"  The chief priests answered, "We have no king but the emperor." Then he handed him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha.     

 There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews."  Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. Then the chief priests said to Pilate, "Do not write, 'The King of the Jews,' but, 'This man said, I am King of the Jews.'"  But Pilate answered, "What I have written I have written."      

When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top.  So they said to one another, "Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it." This was to fulfill what the scripture says, "They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots." And that is what the soldiers did.

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, "Woman, here is your son."  Then he said to the disciple, "Here is your mother." And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.      

After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), "I am thirsty."  A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth.  When Jesus had received the wine, he said, "It is finished." Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.      

Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.)  These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, "None of his bones shall be broken." And again another passage of scripture says, "They will look on the one whom they have pierced."      

After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds.  They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

A Brief Personal Reflection     

We know the story of what happened on Good Friday. Many would prefer not to spend too much time thinking about the awfulness of that day, with its cruelty and suffering. Yet this is the same Jesus whose stories and healings have drawn millions of people through history to follow him, to call him “Saviour” and “Lord”, to trust that he is the presence of God on earth, who can free us from our wounds and grievous mistakes, renew our hearts, and give us life.      

The puzzle of how this good man Jesus came to be crucified could be seen as just another cruel twist of fate, an accident of chance and the turmoil of a people under pressure by brutal Roman overlords. Of course Christians throughout the centuries have developed a variety of theories of “why Jesus had to die”. I don’t want to speak about any of those thoughts or perspectives today, important as they might be to consider at another time. Rather, I simply want to suggest that whatever else we make of this mysterious puzzle about Jesus at the centre of human history, it may be better for us simply to contemplate and respond to the story, for how it might connect with us personally, rather than try to understand or explain it, somehow.  I say this as a person who is curious about puzzles, especially Big Life Puzzles! There are so many things we do not really understand. So many unanswered questions, loose threads in life’s tapestry.                

At the same time, perhaps like you, I have had a few moments here and there through the years where I felt even briefly as though I was being “set up” in a good way ~ and I wanted to know “who?” seemed to be helping me. For example: A time when something unexpected happened, which became a significant turning point leading me on a different life journey. Another time when it felt like the gloomy clouds of uncertainty had lifted, and I could see clearly for even a few seconds ~ as though I could see eternity, and how beautiful everything is, how fitting, how amazingly good life is. Strange breakthrough moments which I could never have planned, but which now seem so central in my life journey.   Did someone else lead me unwittingly into those gifted moments?  Have you had experiences like this which made you feel good, but could not be explained? I have come to believe than many, perhaps even most or all of us could say yes to that question. It’s just that we don’t talk about those deeply personal (and strangely curious) experiences very often.

Here’s my thought ~ a question, really. There seems so much that is good in life, in spite of and in the midst of not just the bad, but even the truly awful that is part of our experience. But as I look back, I wonder if in fact God has been following us ~ each of us ~ as though searching for the right opportunity to show us his love, his desire to make things work in our lives, to connect personally with us.   We often feel we have to look for God, but I wonder if God is the one searching ~ for you, and me: each of us?   Because God knows better than we do both the gifts and graces and wonderfulness that life is intended to be.  But God also know how easily we go astray, make terrible mistakes, get ourselves stuck enough to think there is no way out, no one watching us, no way for us to puzzle our way through the challenges of living to finally find balance and wholeness.   And who else but God could be offering us “something more”? 

For me, Jesus’ death is one more, very central illustration of the lengths to which God will go – to reach out to us, to rescue us, to break the power of evil and even death ~ for us.  In other words, I confess that I don’t “understand” very much; but I do respond from the heart to what might be the hand of God reaching toward me, even through the awful image of Jesus on the cross.  These curious wondering thoughts make me want to slow down, to consider again those “little moments” of light and hope and breakthrough insight on life’s journey which I could never explain, but for which I’m so grateful.   

I experience Good Friday as exactly this kind of curious experience which I would have avoided completely if were up to me to know things in advance. But once I stumbled over it, puzzled and struggled and finally simply gave up trying to power my way through some kind of “resolution” or “understanding” to solve the puzzle, I experience Jesus’ death on the cross as a window letting light into a dark and sometimes frightening room. If God is searching to connect with us, and not just the other way around, perhaps I want to stop running, as though everything was “all up to me”, and let myself be caught...   Try as I might to “explain” my faith, or Jesus’ death, perhaps what is more important is just to respond~ heart, and mind, and spirit. 

Something happened on that terrible day which transcends all my understanding, and makes me want to follow, and listen, and live.      

Christ has died.   Christ is Risen.  Christ will come again.      Amen.      


Lord Jesus, we are broken open as we contemplate you, dying. We don’t understand. Yet your eyes seem to search ours, to embrace us, as you literally hang between life and death. Let me accept the mystery of your gift of life ~ even through dying ~ whether I understand or not. Help me to follow, to experience you day by day, to grow as you seem to want for each of us. Reveal what you want me to see, to feel, to become, as I try to respond to you from the heart. This painful day is part of your life-story, and your life story is central to the meaning of history, and offers a lens through which I see my own life differently.  

I want to follow you, live with you, always. I bow before you, feeling humbled in face of your sacrifice.  Thank you, Jesus, not just for teaching and healing and inspiring so many, but for “being the way to the truth about life.”   Thank you for your work of transformation ~ even in my little life. Bring healing and hope to our world, I pray, and to all who look to you in hesitant faith and hope.             

Praise to you, Lord Jesus.