Friday 10 April 2020: Good Friday
The moment of conviction
Context: morning congregation in an urban, intergenerational, international church
Aim: to reflect on the nature of the whole of the Friday experience and to consider our own expectations of Jesus and our own understandings of discipleship – all in preparation for the Good News of Easter
Jesus’ last hours are riddled with various sorts of conviction, apart from the obvious one that ends in the tearing apart of the world and its eventual righting.
We have Judas – whether you think him a doomed figure or tragic man, evil betrayer or friend gone wrong, impatient zealot or warped greedy turncoat, Judas, betraying Jesus, is convinced he’s doing right. His payment makes it clear that he’s left behind honour, but his actions seem without hesitation. Did he want Jesus to die? Was he trying to promote a Kingdom overthrow? We don’t know. We know his actions brought death.
We meet the priestly order, full of conviction that Jesus is a blaspheming pretender. An heretical, instable, dangerous insurrectionist. They believe that whatever else is true, Jesus needs to be, deserves to be, must be exterminated. He is the object of their hate and they despise him. He represents faithfulness in ways they cannot understand – and he shames them by his goodness. Their approach towards Jesus is bent in one direction: his death will set them free. In their desire to carry on uninterrupted in their religious practices they know so little of God and so much of a narrow way – keeping purity in an utterly impure way – all while angling for the death of The Pure One.
Peter is full of conviction when he denies, denies, and denies Jesus. His voice ringing out – ‘I know him not.’ His conviction is rooted in fear – of death, violence, and punishment. Peter’s conviction is laced with tragedy – there’s an echo of his earlier equally strong statements: ‘you are The Christ’ and ‘I will never betray you or leave you, where would I go?’ The answer is clear: he would go back to fishing, riddled with guilt and shame at his turning from friendship at the last. No hero. No triumph. His love overwhelmed by fear.
Pilate is the least convincing – in a way – but his role in Jesus’ conviction is clear. He’s a powerful man, weak in the hands of his role. Pilate has no recourse to other authorities – the buck stops with him. His weak conviction doesn’t compel the crowd to follow him; all his power cannot make others bend their mob-mentality to his views. And so, Pilate succumbs to the fervour of the crowds’ absolute hate and gives Jesus over to his death-walk. Pilate’s stand for the right sign ‘The King of the Jews,’ being hanged is the only real show of strength he offers: ‘What I have written, I have written.’ Much too late for Jesus’ life to be preserved, but not too late for passers-by to see truth declared even in his crucifixion.
Then, there’s the crowd. A modern hymn captures their cries – and ours: ‘my voice amongst the scoffers.’ Their want is absolute: crucify him. Their will, collectively misguided, baying for blood, manipulated by frenzied priests and their minions, is wholly turned towards the death of a man they’d been helped, healed and taught by. The strength of the crowd’s voice – the tiny voices of those who love Jesus drowned out – and their violence wins: he is crucified. Soldiers obeying the criminal conviction.
I wonder what we make of all this on ‘good Friday’? If we step into the shoes of the characters involved in Jesus’ capture, trial, beatings, crucifixion, do we recognise ourselves? Are we willing to betray him for what we think is a good cause, or put our ‘need’ for money above our pursuit of Jesus’ ways? Are we so convinced we know what Jesus means for our comfort, religion, or wills that we would rather we hand him over, so he doesn’t disrupt our church or Christian lives too much? As disciples, are we tempted to act and speak as if we don’t know him – fearing the consequences? Shamed by his goodness would we rather carry on our faith without him messing us up? Are we compelled to make no decision at all and let others direct our choices in relation to Him? Are we passing off our responsibility to speak and act truth because we’d rather please other voices of power? Do we join a crowd baying for violence as a response? Do we let ourselves get swept up in the cries to get rid of Jesus as King?
Good Friday exposes all the competing truths at work in our lives: and yet, here we are, gathered to steep ourselves in the mystery that the cross overshadows us and asks us to realise that in Jesus, God’s forgiveness is for all, God’s mercy is for us, God’s life is beyond death and violence and so we find ourselves awed and overwhelmed. Our conviction joining His Conviction: God’s love is enough. God is for us.
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