Friday, March 29, 2013

You, The Bloved Disciple, Were There That Day

JOHN 18:1 - 19:42
In John’s recounting of the Good Friday story we see Jesus being taken captive and taken to trial. He tells us that two disciples followed as Jesus was taken to the house of the high priest. One of these disciples is identified as Peter but the second one is not named. , at the foot of the cross, we find Jesus’ mother, his aunt, Mary Magdalene and a disciple identified only as ‘the one Jesus loved’.

Some experts think that the unnamed disciple in these scenes might have been the Apostle John.  However, this is not certain and it is also possible that the Holy Spirit, in guiding the writing of this testimony, had in mind another purpose in leaving the disciple unidentified. Since this disciple is in the garden when Jesus is arrested, at his trial and at the cross when Jesus dies he probably witnesses the whole journey from the Passover meal to the cross and to the tomb.
I invite you to step into the role of this unnamed disciple as we recall the events of that Holy Week in which our God revealed his  awesome love for us.
After sundown you and the other disciples gather with Jesus for the Passover  meal. The motions and words of the  Seder Meal recall the  those ancient days when the lord led his people out of slavery in Egypt. The Passover celebration is intended to rekindle the feeling of those days so long ago, the feeling of really being set free, really setting forth on a journey to a promised land.
Jesus’ words add to this feeling and you get this  intuition that you are really experiencing the Passover. Since this is the intent of this liturgy you brush it off as Jesus invites you to join him for a walk in the garden. You have been here before. Jesus brought his disciples here often to talk and to pray. But this night the time in the garden turns into a night of terror. Suddenly soldiers and policemen appear and move to arrest Jesus. Swords are drawn and blood is spilled. Soon Jesus is taken away in chains.
You begin to run away! But then you remember that day when you first met Jesus, the day he called you out of a life of sin, the day he took your sins away, the day you realized that God loves you, and the day you became his follower. So you turn back and follow the soldiers and policemen to the house of the high priest. You know the family of the high priest so you are able to gain entrance to the hall where the Sanhedrin was meeting. It soon became clear that this was a trial, the accused is Jesus.
As the testimony proceeds you get the feeling that this is all wrong, Jesus had committed no crimes, there must be some mistake! At first you hide in the crowd filled with fear. But again you recall that it was Jesus that loved you even though you were a sinner and you begin to push your way forward.
You are thinking that you might offer to take his place. After all you are the guilty one. Or at least you could correct the false testimony you had been hearing. As you approach the clerk to ask to be a witness Jesus catches your eye, he seems to be  asking you to stop. You hesitate and it is too late! The soldiers come again and now he is to be taken to Pilate the Roman Governor. As you fall back into the crown you suddenly remember the words of the Prophet Isaiah,
“like a lamb lead to slaughter or a sheep before the shearers, he was silent and opened not his mouth. Oppressed and condemned he was taken away.”
Jesus and the soldiers disappear into the roman fort and you wait in the large crowd that has congregated outside. After a while the roman governor appears and says to the religious leaders that he finds no case against Jesus! You begin to think that maybe the Romans will see that Jesus is innocent.
By custom the Governor  released a Jewish prisoner at Passover. Now he proposes to release Jesus and your heart skips a beat! But your heart is wrong, the religious leaders insist that he release Barabbas, a rebel and murderer, sentenced to death. They insist that Jesus take Barabas’ place in today’s scheduled executions. Jesus is taken back into the fort and again you wait.
After a while Jesus is again brought out and he clearly had been beaten. He was bleeding from his head and back. The governor shouted to the crowd, “behold your king.” But the religious leader shouted,
                “crucify him  - crucify him!”
Soon the whole crowd was shouting,
                “crucify him - crucify him!”
Standing in this crowd you begin to feel as though all of us are responsible for this. You again recall the words of Isaiah,
“we had all gone astray, like sheep, each following his own way; but the lord laid upon him the guilt of us all.”
You begin to sense that he really will die for this crowd and really die that Barabbas can be set free. Later you will know that he died for you also, died to pay for your sins, to set you free. Now the soldiers bring out the others to be executed and the wooden crosses, the racks of execution which are forced upon the condemned to carry. Again the Governor stops the proceedings and has a sign nailed to the cross of Jesus that says,
                “Jesus, the Nazarene, the King of the Jews.”
It is written in Hebrew , Latin and Greek. The reality of this execution will be public and communicated to all.
Now you begin to understand that Jesus is being executed because of who he is not for what he has done. As you turn away from the gruesome scene of the soldiers preparing for the execution, you again recall that day you began to follow Jesus, that day he took away your sins and healed your guilt.
You also remember all the others you saw healed and forgiven or told you of their own reconciliation with god. Was it possible that he was taking them all upon himself?  Again you recall Isaiah’s words,
                “Because he surrendered himself to death and was counted among the wicked; he shall take away the sins of many, and win pardon for their offenses.”
You come upon, Jesus’ mother , her sister and Mary Magdalene and you huddle together waiting for the end.  It strikes you that all the world is here to witness this death. The soldiers sent to be sure it happens for the glory of Rome. The religious leaders demanding that it happen before sundown.
And here in this huddled little crowd are representatives of his disciples and his family. There will be no doubt that this man has died. The soldiers relent in their guard and you are permitted to approach for a final word with Jesus. He asks you to give his mother a special place in your heart and your home.
Now it is over, the soldiers make sure the condemned are dead and you help Nicodemus take down the body of Jesus and carry it to the tomb. After the burial you go away feeling empty and sad.
We must leave the story now because we know what the unnamed disciple could not yet know: That on the third day Jesus rose from the dead and lives with us.  This week end we celebrate this great reality of our hearts.
Jesus died for you and I and Jesus lives!

(c) Joseph E. Hilber, 1997, revised 2013, all rights reserved.

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