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Good Friday

Genesis 22:1-18 - link to NRSV text
John 18:1 - 19:37 - link to NRSV text

Matthew, Mark, and Luke present Jesus' last meal with his disciples -- the meal we remember particularly on Maundy Thursday -- as a Passover meal. The Gospel According to John, however, goes out of its way to say that Jesus died on the Day of Preparation, the day before the Passover meal would be eaten. I find the old-school historical question, though, of which day was the one on which Jesus died far less interesting than the (also historical!) question of what points the gospels are making in presenting things as they do in each of their unique takes on the meaning of Jesus' death.

John presents Jesus as dying on the Day of Preparation as part of his presentation of Christ as our Passover. In 1998, I was fortunate enough to hear Rabbi Alexander Schindler (former head of the organizations of congregations in the Reform branch of Judaism in the U.S.) speak, and I will never forget something he said. Mitzrayim, the Hebrew name for Egypt, means "the narrow place," Schindler pointed out; God leads us out of the narrow places.

I'd always loved the haggadah, the liturgy of the Passover meal, but each year, as I continue to reflect on what Rabbi Schindler taught me that night, my appreciation deepens further still. The haggadah instructs us to say, in the first person, "A wandering Aramean was my ancestor," from Deuteronomy 26:3-11. The story of our Exodus, as God leads us from "the narrow place," goes back at least to Abraham. When humanity's vision of what the world and the powers that made it is in the narrow place of thinking the gods were as thirsty for human bloodshed as humankind is at our worst, in a culture in which parents sacrificed their sons and daughters to appease the powers, God's voice speaks to Abraham as he loomed over his bound son Isaac, and God says, "Stop it! That's enough!" God goes with Abraham to that dark and narrow place and led him to a wider place, a wider vision.

The Passover haggadah instructs us to say, in the first person, "When we were slaves in Egypt," also from Deuteronomy 26:3-11. When humanity sees power merely as domination, when humanity treats difference as a reason to subjugate the "other," God raises a prophet to say, "Enough," to lead us out of the "narrow place" of slavery.

Not that we stayed looking and moving forward on the journey God set us on. We sacrificed our sons and daughters to all kinds of powers and causes, trading lives for what is far less precious than life. We enslaved peoples captured in wars, from colonies, or by poverty and debt, practicing slavery in legally enshrined and more subtle de facto ways. We experienced how, when we treat human life as cheap, our own lives seem worthless. We found as we enslaved others that our greed had enslaved us. We tried to protect ourselves from death by killing, from violence by violence, from pain by wounding others, and amidst all of our score-keeping and fantasied and practiced revenge, and in the person of Jesus, God said, "Never again."

The Cross is a dark place. The Romans who invented it used the height of their ingenuity to engineer a form of torture that even now has hardly been matched. Rulers like Pontius Pilate didn't hesitate to use it. It was diabolically simple, cost-effective and highly visible as a public deterrent to those who would oppose the might of Rome. During the Passover season, as Jerusalem became clogged with pilgrims remembering how their God liberates slaves from their oppressors, Pilate lined the roads with hundreds of crosses, each filled with a living tableau of how narrow and dark a prison we can make of our imagination when we set it upon wounding others.

In the person of Jesus, God came to that dark and narrow place, to our Mitzrayim. In Jesus' arms, stretched out on the Cross, God showed us the wideness of God's mercy. The most powerful person in all Creation became powerless for our sake. The only person who could rightly be called "lord" or "king," the person before whom all earthly kings will one day kneel, took upon himself the treatment humankind dealt to a slave convicted of treason. The judge of the nations was stripped naked and violated with a shameful death, and he said, "That's enough. Never again. It is finished." Not with a decisive blow back to put his tormentors to shame, but with words of healing, of reconciliation, bringing together the human family with his last breath. The power of that demonstration has never been equalled, because Jesus' power is not like the power of worldly kings; Jesus speaks truly when he tells Pilate that his kingdom is not of the order, of the kosmos, of this world. Jesus' light shines all the more brightly in the darkness of Good Friday.

This is a dark place we visit today. But we need to be here. We need to visit the dark and narrow places, to open our hearts not only to the hungry, the homeless, and the oppressed, but to the contemptuous, the persecutors, the oppressors. Because the dark places in our hearts are populated by all of these; we scorn and despise and persecute and try to kill what we most fear in ourselves. It's hopeless -- or it would be hopeless, but Jesus put an end to that. There is freedom for slaves and slavers alike through the one who became as a slave to all, as we discover in this dark place. All scores were settled in the refusal of this one to settle the score. There's a wideness in God's mercy, as we discover the midst of our Mitzrayim, our narrow place. The darkness and the fear and the pain and death itself have been cast out; Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.

"It is finished."

April 5, 2004 in Genesis, Holy Week, John | Permalink

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The comments to this entry are closed.

 
Dylan's lectionary blog: Good Friday

« Maundy Thursday | Main | Easter Sunday, Year C »

Good Friday

Genesis 22:1-18 - link to NRSV text
John 18:1 - 19:37 - link to NRSV text

Matthew, Mark, and Luke present Jesus' last meal with his disciples -- the meal we remember particularly on Maundy Thursday -- as a Passover meal. The Gospel According to John, however, goes out of its way to say that Jesus died on the Day of Preparation, the day before the Passover meal would be eaten. I find the old-school historical question, though, of which day was the one on which Jesus died far less interesting than the (also historical!) question of what points the gospels are making in presenting things as they do in each of their unique takes on the meaning of Jesus' death.

John presents Jesus as dying on the Day of Preparation as part of his presentation of Christ as our Passover. In 1998, I was fortunate enough to hear Rabbi Alexander Schindler (former head of the organizations of congregations in the Reform branch of Judaism in the U.S.) speak, and I will never forget something he said. Mitzrayim, the Hebrew name for Egypt, means "the narrow place," Schindler pointed out; God leads us out of the narrow places.

I'd always loved the haggadah, the liturgy of the Passover meal, but each year, as I continue to reflect on what Rabbi Schindler taught me that night, my appreciation deepens further still. The haggadah instructs us to say, in the first person, "A wandering Aramean was my ancestor," from Deuteronomy 26:3-11. The story of our Exodus, as God leads us from "the narrow place," goes back at least to Abraham. When humanity's vision of what the world and the powers that made it is in the narrow place of thinking the gods were as thirsty for human bloodshed as humankind is at our worst, in a culture in which parents sacrificed their sons and daughters to appease the powers, God's voice speaks to Abraham as he loomed over his bound son Isaac, and God says, "Stop it! That's enough!" God goes with Abraham to that dark and narrow place and led him to a wider place, a wider vision.

The Passover haggadah instructs us to say, in the first person, "When we were slaves in Egypt," also from Deuteronomy 26:3-11. When humanity sees power merely as domination, when humanity treats difference as a reason to subjugate the "other," God raises a prophet to say, "Enough," to lead us out of the "narrow place" of slavery.

Not that we stayed looking and moving forward on the journey God set us on. We sacrificed our sons and daughters to all kinds of powers and causes, trading lives for what is far less precious than life. We enslaved peoples captured in wars, from colonies, or by poverty and debt, practicing slavery in legally enshrined and more subtle de facto ways. We experienced how, when we treat human life as cheap, our own lives seem worthless. We found as we enslaved others that our greed had enslaved us. We tried to protect ourselves from death by killing, from violence by violence, from pain by wounding others, and amidst all of our score-keeping and fantasied and practiced revenge, and in the person of Jesus, God said, "Never again."

The Cross is a dark place. The Romans who invented it used the height of their ingenuity to engineer a form of torture that even now has hardly been matched. Rulers like Pontius Pilate didn't hesitate to use it. It was diabolically simple, cost-effective and highly visible as a public deterrent to those who would oppose the might of Rome. During the Passover season, as Jerusalem became clogged with pilgrims remembering how their God liberates slaves from their oppressors, Pilate lined the roads with hundreds of crosses, each filled with a living tableau of how narrow and dark a prison we can make of our imagination when we set it upon wounding others.

In the person of Jesus, God came to that dark and narrow place, to our Mitzrayim. In Jesus' arms, stretched out on the Cross, God showed us the wideness of God's mercy. The most powerful person in all Creation became powerless for our sake. The only person who could rightly be called "lord" or "king," the person before whom all earthly kings will one day kneel, took upon himself the treatment humankind dealt to a slave convicted of treason. The judge of the nations was stripped naked and violated with a shameful death, and he said, "That's enough. Never again. It is finished." Not with a decisive blow back to put his tormentors to shame, but with words of healing, of reconciliation, bringing together the human family with his last breath. The power of that demonstration has never been equalled, because Jesus' power is not like the power of worldly kings; Jesus speaks truly when he tells Pilate that his kingdom is not of the order, of the kosmos, of this world. Jesus' light shines all the more brightly in the darkness of Good Friday.

This is a dark place we visit today. But we need to be here. We need to visit the dark and narrow places, to open our hearts not only to the hungry, the homeless, and the oppressed, but to the contemptuous, the persecutors, the oppressors. Because the dark places in our hearts are populated by all of these; we scorn and despise and persecute and try to kill what we most fear in ourselves. It's hopeless -- or it would be hopeless, but Jesus put an end to that. There is freedom for slaves and slavers alike through the one who became as a slave to all, as we discover in this dark place. All scores were settled in the refusal of this one to settle the score. There's a wideness in God's mercy, as we discover the midst of our Mitzrayim, our narrow place. The darkness and the fear and the pain and death itself have been cast out; Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.

"It is finished."

April 5, 2004 in Genesis, Holy Week, John | Permalink

Comments

The comments to this entry are closed.