A reflection for Good Friday

Reading: Isaiah 53:3-12

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.

A Reflection for Good Friday

You might think that this is an odd photograph to choose for a Good Friday reflection – a bus station seen through a security fence. This rocky escarpment is located in Jerusalem and was unearthed during excavations in 1867. The rock formation is rather like a human skull and it is possibly the site of ‘Gogotha’, meaning the place of the skull, where Our Lord was crucified (Matthew 27:33). It is close to one of the main city gates where many people would pass by, the sort of place the Roman authorities would have chosen to publicly shame the criminals and rebels they crucified, as a warning to other would-be revolutionaries.

Today it is the site of a busy bus station, still close to one of the gates to the old city, where many people would come and go. For pilgrims to Jerusalem it might seem a pity that a rather unsightly bus station is located close to such a significant site, but when I was there in 2015, it seemed rather appropriate, because it emphasised just how public the crucifixion of Jesus was. I could imagine the passers-by jeering and mocking: ‘Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.’ (Matt.27:39-40).

The charge for which each ‘criminal’ was condemned to death by crucifixion was written on a sign and nailed to the cross of the victim for all to see. Many would have been bandits or zealots who had taken up the sword against the occupying imperial power. The sign on Our Lord’s cross read ‘This is Jesus, the king of the Jews’. The irony is that he was condemned for a ‘crime’ he did not commit, but which suited his opponents’ purpose of getting rid of someone they perceived as a threat. Jesus most decidedly had resisted all attempts to persuade him to establish a kingdom through physical force or political revolution.

On Good Friday each year at the service in St. James’ Church, Athboy, it has been the custom to read the dramatized passion narrative from the gospel (this year it would have been from Matthew’s account). Members of the congregation read the various parts in dramatic form and this helps us to enter into the story. There is something powerful about crowd shouting for the release of Barabbas and ‘Let him be crucified’ or the chief priests saying ‘he saved others, he cannot save himself’.

On hearing these words we are struck by the sheer injustice of the so-called trial and execution of Jesus, an ordeal which he endured almost in silence apart from the haunting cry of dereliction, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Matt.27:46), when his agony and suffering found expression in the words of Psalm 22. We have already observed on Palm Sunday that Our Lord entered Jerusalem in the full knowledge of the fate that awaited him. He willingly went to his death, putting up no resistance, having prayed at Gethsemane ‘‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want’ (Matt.26:39).

So what does the death of Jesus mean to us all? For me, the greatest expression of his self-giving sacrifice is expressed in the words written hundreds of year before by the prophet Isaiah in our reading.

‘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’ (Isa 53:5-6).

Let us reflect on these words on this sacred day.

Prayers

Eternal God,
in the cross of Jesus
we see the cost of our sin
and the depth of your love:
in humble hope and fear
may we place at his feet
all that we have and all that we are,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

O Lord Jesus Christ,
Son of the living God,
set your passion, cross and death
between your judgement and our souls,
now and in the hour of our death.
Grant mercy and grace to the living,
rest to the departed,
to your Church peace and concord
and to us sinners forgiveness,
and everlasting life and glory;
for, with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
you are alive and reign,
God, now and for ever. Amen.

Most merciful God,
who by the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ
delivered and saved the world:
grant that by faith in him who suffered on the cross
we may triumph in the power of his victory;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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