10 April 2020
North Congregational Church
New Hartford, Connecticut
A service shared via email since we cannot gather together due to our need to “shelter in place” to prevent the spread of the corona virus that is spreading around the world.
WORDS FOR GATHERING
Today is the saddest day in the Christian year. When we feel as if a heavy veil is drawn over heart and mind.
We are asked to be present with the One who found himself without friend or helper, knowing that life was about to be drained out of him.
We are invited to be witnesses to his suffering. In our imaginations, let us trudge through Jerusalem, until we come to the place of the Cross: and then, let us not turn our faces away.
On this day lie all the sorrows and failings of a humanity that strives to do the right things yet comes up against human limitations. A humanity whose peace plans give way to guns, and whose political promises for compassion and concern for the common good fail to resist the temptation for personal wealth and power.
Here is a day marked by the brokenness of the world. So let us hear once again to the sacred story. Let us remember how it was for Jesus, and find at the foot of the cross a place to lay down ours and the world’s sins and sorrow.
(with phrases borrowed from Ann Siddall from the website of the Stillpoint Spirituality Centre)
SCRIPTURE. John 18:1 – 19:42
After Jesus had spoken these words, 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 them, ‘For whom are you looking?’ They answered, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’* Jesus replied, ‘I am he.’* Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When Jesus* said to them, ‘I am he’,*they stepped back and fell to the ground. Again he asked them, ‘For whom are you looking?’ 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 fulfil 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 back into its sheath. 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 round 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 do you 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 fulfil what Jesus had said when he indicated 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; and it was 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 of the Jews said to Pilate, ‘Do not write, “The King of the Jews”, but, “This man said, I am King of the Jews.” ’ 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 fulfil 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 fulfil 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.
MEDITATION The Rev. Marcia Lynn Cox
The saddest day of the year on the Christian calendar. How can it be good?
Before I attended seminary I asked a local church pastor why this day was called “Good Friday.” This particular minister was a wonderful person but in no way a scholar and so glibly answered, “Because it was the day that Jesus died for our sins.” This unfortunately, in my mind at least, is a common understanding, but one of several theories.
The second is found in, among other places, a 1909 entry in The Catholic Encyclopedia that holds that the “Good” in Good Friday derives from God or “God’s Friday.” However, there seems to be no basis for this etymology. Anatoly Liberman, a professor at the University of Minnesota who studies the origins of English words argues that “The origin from God is out of the question” The linguist and lexicographer Ben Zimmer [notes] that the German for Good Friday isn’t actually “Gottes Freitag” (“God’s Friday”), as the Catholic Encyclopedia suggests, but rather Karfreitag (“Sorrowful Friday”). [And he adds], “None of the early examples in the Oxford English Dictionaryimply that it started off as God’s rather than Good, so [this is nothing more than] speculative etymology.”
The third and final theory, the one supported by both the Oxford English Dictionary and [a number of several language experts] is that the name comes from an antiquated meaning of good….Jesse Sheidlower, the president of the American Dialect Society [contends that “good” means “holy”] …Liberman agrees, noting that if you consider the other names for Good Friday—“Sacred Friday” in the Romance languages (Viernes Santo, e.g.), “Passion Friday” in Russian—“the OED’s explanation makes excellent sense.” (Forrest Wickman, Slate. April 19, 2019, heavily edited)
It seems to me that some common explanations of the events of the crucifixion of Jesus have led to several misunderstandings that have led to century-long beliefs. The first is the notion that this is a “good” day because Jesus “died for our sins.” This is otherwise known as the atonement theory, one type being “penal substitution.”
“This phrase means that Jesus died to bear the penalty for the sins of humanity, hence “penal,” and that he did this in my place, hence “substitution.” The bearing of penalty implies that God needed to punish sinners, and that something actually happened to Jesus on the cross which was accepted by God as an equivalent to this punishment. Substitution goes beyond representation, pointing to the idea that, on the cross, Jesus was doing something without our participation — and, indeed, to spare us. [In] penal substitution, which originates with Martin Luther’s Galatians commentary of 1535, …the Father pours out his wrath and judgement on the Son. (Dr. Ben Pugh, “Ransom, substitute, scapegoat, God: is there one doctrine of the atonement?” Church Times, March 29, 2018)
I find this idea to be troubling, since it presents us with a vengeful God who willed the blood sacrifice of the most wonderful teacher that ever lived, who sought only to do God’s will and preached compassion and justice.
The second misunderstanding of one aspect of the gospel story is that Jesus was killed by the Jews. This belief has led to centuries of anti-Semitism and persecution of Jews. But this contradicts the facts of history, since crucifixion was not a Jewish, but a Roman, punishment as a number of scholars have maintained, including Reza Aslan. “Among Romans,” he writes, “crucifixion originated as a deterrence against revolt of slaves, probably as early as 200 B.C.E. By Jesus’s time, it was the primary form of punishment for “inciting rebellion” (i.e., treason or sedition) the exact crime which Jesus was charged.” (Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth)
So then how might those of us who neither wish to hold Jews responsible for the death of Jesus nor believe in a vengeful God regard this “Holy” Friday?
I at least experience it as a day of mourning and a day of reflection. First, might we speak out at every opportunity against anti-Semitism and seek, if we haven’t already, friendships with our Jewish neighbors who share so many of our values. And also, on this day as we mourn the suffering of Jesus might we also contemplate the fact that so many people who have been influenced by the courage of Jesus ultimately sacrificed their lives as well. Martin Luther King, Oscar Romero, and Gandhi are famous leaders who come to mind. But there are countless others who have dedicated their lives to speaking for justice and the common good. And on this day might we consider the ways in which we might support those who uphold, and ourselves represent, the teachings of Jesus in a world so in need of compassion, justice and healing.
These things we meditate on as we pray the prayer that Jesus taught,
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name,
thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
On this sad and holy day, remember the betrayal and the suffering of the cross, Go forth as steadfast witnesses to the courage of Jesus, living as servants of his justice, love and peace. AMEN.