This is an alternative pattern for a one hour “Meditation on the Passion”, delivered 2-3pm on Good Friday. There is an alternative reflection on Luke’s Passion narrative at Good Friday with Luke 23
Even if you are not following this as a worship service, it may help to follow the pattern: hymn, comment and reading of scripture, silence, prayer, – and on to the next hymn, three times.
1st hymn – we sang “There is a green hill”
2. There are many ways of spending an hour on Good Friday, including reflections on Jesus “Seven Last Words”, gathered from the different gospels, and on the Passion story from the gospel featured in the lectionary year. But as I was preparing this year, a different approach occurred to me. I hope it is not too eccentric, and you will find it helpful. It seemed to me that we were less like those who gathered in sight of the crosses at Calvary, since it is a long time ago and we have heard the story many times. Rather, we might see ourselves as those gathered on the anniversary of that traumatic death. Some of the impact has softened with time, but we are still affected by it, and wanting to make sense, and to share our different reactions. In that case, I hope it will be helpful to hear, not the gospel writer/s, but some of those who wrote the New Testament letters. We will ask them what they made of the death of Jesus, and reflect on their answers.
3. To begin, we must hear from Peter. The impulsive fisherman was one of Jesus’s disciples, indeed their leader by Jesus’ appointment. It was Peter who recognised Jesus as Messiah, and saw him in heavenly glory at the Transfiguration. It was also Peter who promised not to deny Jesus, but who disowned him three times the night of his arrest. Forgiven and reinstated after breakfast on the seashore, he led the early Church. The New Testament has 2 letters bearing his name, and it is to the first 2 chapters of the 1st letter we shall turn. So, Peter, we are glad to have you through the words of your letter. What can you tell us about Jesus Passion and death?
1Peter 1:15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” 17 Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. 18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God. 22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. 23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. 24 For, “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, 25 but the word of the Lord endures forever.” And this is the word that was preached to you.
Peter is clear that Jesus death is the motivation for our Christian life – a holy life. There is more in chapter 2:21 on:
But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 22 “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” 23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 25 For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
Thank you, Peter. You have made it clear that we were bought – at great cost, the cost of Jesus life – for a life of holiness. This was no accident – he was chosen before the creation of the world. Clearly those you wrote to were in danger of suffering for their faith, and you pointed to Jesus example, as “he himself bore our sins in his body on the cross”. Our debt to Jesus – your debt too – is enormous.
Lets take several minutes in silence to think and pray.
Prayer: Holy Lord, whose life was given willingly as the cost of our freedom: free our minds to understand your death, and our lives to live for your glory. Amen
2nd Hymn – we sang My song is love unknown.
Peter has told us something of why Jesus death made sense – at least what it achieved. Now we must ask the other leading apostle.
Saul the Pharisee may never have met Jesus during his earthly ministry. We know that he was at the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:58), but as an opponent of the Christians. Wonderfully converted when on the way to Damascus to persecute the Church, he became the great missionary to the Gentiles – though always going first to the Jews of any town he visited. Although his letters do not tell us stories of Jesus, it is clear that his message was very much about him: so 1 Corinthians 15:1-4
Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. 3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, . . .(and he continues to note the various resurrection appearances)1 Corinthians 15:1-4
You might think this is just an introduction, but it is central. The (NIV) heading added to 1 Corinthians 1:18f is “Christ crucified is God’s power and wisdom”.
1Corinthians 1:18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” 20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
Thank you, Paul. We could have gone further, to read in Romans 6 how our Baptism is a dying with Christ to sin, to rise with him to new life – but enough. It is not difficult to understand that some would have been more impressed if Jesus had directed legions of angels in terrible reprisal against his enemies, or even done some action so amazing as to crush all opposition. There are still those who want “success” above all. “Success” because the Cross is God’s greatest success – just one we find hard to credit, accept, and live by. It is easy to see how others would prefer Christian faith to be academic, theoretical and debatable, like the philosophies of the Greek thinkers.
That Jesus dies for us is embarrassing, painful, a reminder of the depth of our failure. “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”
Lets take several minutes in silence to think and pray.
Prayer: Almighty Father, we thank you that Jesus did not crush his enemies with overwhelming force, despite their violence, nor leave us some abstract but irrefutable teaching. Help us to follow the Saviour who chose the Cross, and to live as his disciples, whatever the cost. Amen
5. 3rd Hymn – we sang We sing the praise.
Peter and Paul have both pointed us to Jesus, and his death, as central to faith. It was difficult for Jews to accept – and non-Jews found the exclusive claims of Jesus just as difficult as some modern sceptics. Who else might we invite as the final contributor to our memorial gathering?
The writer of the letter to Hebrews has not left a clear identity (though there have been many guesses!). He (?) is clearly familiar with Jewish belief and practice, but also desperate to prevent Jewish believers – that is, Christians – from relapsing to a Jewish faith without Christ, which would give them an easier life and less danger of persecution. Like both Peter and Paul, there is a clear focus on Jesus:
Hebrews 1:1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. 4 So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.
But Jesus is important for more than his status. This Jewish writer wants to talk about the greatest High Priest, who offers himself as the final sacrifice.
Hebrews 4:14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
This High Priest is sympathetic, because of his suffering, and much greater that any other.
Hebrews 9:11 But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. 12 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. 13 The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! 15 For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.
Hebrews 10:11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. 14 For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
Jesus the High Priest – the one who brings us back to God – who offers himself as a sacrifice, a perfect sacrifice offered once for all time. These may not be easy ideas, – we are more used to politicians telling us of the sacrifices we must make because . . . But here we are told of a sacrifice made for us.
Three writers. Different personalities, styles and approaches. Yet all clear that Jesus does something of vital and eternal importance, and does it by his death. Perhaps for us hearing them in this context helps explain – explain why the violence, hatred, injustice, evil, is not the last word. Why the faults and failures of people like us matter, matter terribly, yet can be forgiven.
As we remember the great High Priest, reconciling us with Almighty God by the perfect sacrifice of his own life,
Lets take several minutes in silence to think and pray.
Prayer: God of your Ancient People, the Jews, and of all humankind, whom they called Gentiles; God of the religious and the secular, the good and the bad, remind us of our need of forgiveness and direction, and take us forward into the life you have made possible. Amen
Go into God’s world in peace. Remember all that has been done for you – the sacrificial death of a Saviour, the victory over evil, the gift of life, and the blessing of God who planned our rescue, of his Son, who paid the price of our forgiveness, and of the Spirit, who directs us in new life and discipleship, be with you now and for ever. Amen
Final 4th Hymn we sang When I survey.