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Last night, we heard of the new commandment Jesus gave to his disciples as he fed them and washed their feet as a servant would.
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Tonight, after hearing this heartbreaking story of betrayal and political scheming and violence and humiliation and death, we are left to go out into the darkness of the night and wait.
The love of the new commandment is hard to remember tonight after that story we just heard.
Sunday is coming, a famous preacher once said about Easter, but it isn’t here yet.
We are left, tonight, with death. And with the reminder of betrayal—by Judas, by religious leaders, by the crowd, even Peter, who denies Jesus 3 times.
Tonight, it seems our hopes for salvation is lying buried in a tomb.
Good Friday is only good for us because we know that what we can see now—this death we see all around us—will not be victorious. But even that good news doesn’t erase the reality of death from our lives.
Our world has experienced lots of death recently. Six million deaths from Covid globally, almost a million of them in this country alone. Disruption of school, careers, life. Devastating climate and ecological news. War and rumors of war.
No wonder we’re anxious and exhausted.
I want to move right through this time and wake up tomorrow in a less stressful and easier world, to wave a magic wand and be on the other side of this.
But I know that things take time. Israel wandered 40 years in the wilderness, right?
And while I intellectually understand that things take time, it doesn’t seem to matter emotionally. It takes energy and patience to stay in the muck and the mire of life.
Many holy weeks ago, a friend of mine pointed out there is a similarity between burying something and planting something. He asked if a seed could know the intention of the sower— does the seed trust it’s being planted, and not buried, when it is placed deep in the soil and covered up, hidden from the light, the air, the sounds of the world? Does it matter? It’s in the ground either way. Buried. Planted. Separated from what we see and know of life.
Jesus, after his entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, when told by his disciples that people from other countries are there to see him, replies with, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain. If it dies, it bears much fruit.” (12:23-24)
It is from death, burial, planting, that new life is able to bear much fruit.
Which isn’t to say mourning and grief are to be cast off and forgotten as we race to new life. We cannot move headlong toward the next thing, the new life, the fruit that will be born. Time makes demands of us. We must wait.
If we planted seeds today, if we buried them in dirt, would we expect to see a 4-foot-tall sunflower spring up overnight?
It takes time for new life to emerge, time when we can bear each other’s burdens and prayer concerns as we wait and watch, as we water and tend the soil, as we love each other as Jesus loved us. That is our work in the waiting time—to see ourselves and each other as having been planted, and not buried. We love each other and tend to each other the way Liz takes care of the orchids out in the hallway.
Death and time are companions. Good Friday is our reminder that death and time journey together at a pace that is not the one we would choose.
I am also reminded that when we experience new life, it has likely been a long time in the making. A “new artist” was being interviewed on the radio once, asked about how it felt to be a rising star with the release of their first single.
They replied with an answer that suggested they had not forgotten all of the years of practice,
school band concerts,
of touring, playing in dark pool halls and county grange dances,
of rejection from record labels.
Just because they were a new artist to the interviewer, didn’t mean they hadn’t been actively preparing and working for this new life.
Are we willing to wait for new life with active intention and preparation? Are we willing to see being buried as being planted?
Everybody but Jesus in this story seems to be in a hurry for something. The religious leaders and the crowd want to be rid of this meddlesome Jesus. Pilate is trying to wash his hands of the scenario as quickly as possible.
Peter shows up first with a sword, quick to use violence, and by the end of the night, he appears ready to deny Jesus as many times as it takes to just get through the night and get out of there.
Jesus seems to understand, in ways that no other character in the story does, that death and time journey together at a different pace than we would choose.
Jesus gives us instructions for the waiting time, he told us to love one another as he loved us, even as it means death and loss and pain.
And so we return to his words:
‘I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
In John‘s gospel, how did Jesus love us?
He loved us all the way to death. And beyond.
This is the kind of love that takes our time, our effort, our nurturing. It’s the kind of love the world needs to see.
Jesus offered us the gift of loving us with his entire life. And it is that to which we are called with his new commandment.
Sunday’s a coming, friends. But we aren’t there yet. As the psalmist said,
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in God’s word I hope;
While we wait for Easter, we are left to show the world, through our lives, how it is we claim that Good Friday is good. Whether you see it as being buried or planted, may you trust God is your companion through it, and will bring you to a new life you can’t quite see from here.
1 Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
2 Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy.
3 If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
Lord, who could stand?
4 But with you there is forgiveness,
so that we can, with reverence, serve you.
5 I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
6 I wait for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.
7 Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
for with the Lord is unfailing love
and with him is full redemption.
8 He himself will redeem Israel
from all their sins.
1 In you, Lord, I have taken refuge;
let me never be put to shame;
deliver me in your righteousness.
2 Turn your ear to me,
come quickly to my rescue;
be my rock of refuge,
a strong fortress to save me.
3 Since you are my rock and my fortress,
for the sake of your name lead and guide me.
4 Keep me free from the trap that is set for me,
for you are my refuge.
5 Into your hands I commit my spirit;
deliver me, Lord, my faithful God.
6 I hate those who cling to worthless idols;
as for me, I trust in the Lord.
7 I will be glad and rejoice in your love,
for you saw my affliction
and knew the anguish of my soul.
8 You have not given me into the hands of the enemy
but have set my feet in a spacious place.
9 Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress;
my eyes grow weak with sorrow,
my soul and body with grief.
10 My life is consumed by anguish
and my years by groaning;
my strength fails because of my affliction,[b]
and my bones grow weak.
11 Because of all my enemies,
I am the utter contempt of my neighbors
and an object of dread to my closest friends—
those who see me on the street flee from me.
12 I am forgotten as though I were dead;
I have become like broken pottery.
13 For I hear many whispering,
“Terror on every side!”
They conspire against me
and plot to take my life.
14 But I trust in you, Lord;
I say, “You are my God.”
15 My times are in your hands;
deliver me from the hands of my enemies,
from those who pursue me.
16 Let your face shine on your servant;
save me in your unfailing love.
17 Let me not be put to shame, Lord,
for I have cried out to you;
but let the wicked be put to shame
and be silent in the realm of the dead.
18 Let their lying lips be silenced,
for with pride and contempt
they speak arrogantly against the righteous.
19 How abundant are the good things
that you have stored up for those who fear you,
that you bestow in the sight of all,
on those who take refuge in you.
20 In the shelter of your presence you hide them
from all human intrigues;
you keep them safe in your dwelling
from accusing tongues.
21 Praise be to the Lord,
for he showed me the wonders of his love
when I was in a city under siege.
22 In my alarm I said,
“I am cut off from your sight!”
Yet you heard my cry for mercy
when I called to you for help.
23 Love the Lord, all his faithful people!
The Lord preserves those who are true to him,
but the proud he pays back in full.
24 Be strong and take heart,
all you who hope in the Lord.
Psalm 31:1 In Hebrew texts 31:1-24 is numbered 31:2-25.
Psalm 31:10 Or guilt
28 Then the Jewish leaders took Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness they did not enter the palace, because they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. 29 So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?”
30 “If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.”
31 Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.”
“But we have no right to execute anyone,” they objected. 32 This took place to fulfill what Jesus had said about the kind of death he was going to die.
33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”
35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”
36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.
Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
38 “What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. 39 But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?”
40 They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in an uprising.
19 Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. 2 The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe 3 and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they slapped him in the face.
4 Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews gathered there, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” 5 When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”
6 As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!”
But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.”
7 The Jewish leaders insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”
8 When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, 9 and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10 “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”
11 Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”
12 From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”
13 When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). 14 It was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about noon.
“Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.
15 But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”
“Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.
“We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.
16 Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.
So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. 17 Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.
19 Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: jesus of nazareth, the king of the jews. 20 Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. 21 The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.”
22 Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”
23 When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.
24 “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.”
This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said,
“They divided my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.”[a]
So this is what the soldiers did.
25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman,[b] here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
28 Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
John 19:24 Psalm 22:18
John 19:26 The Greek for Woman does not denote any disrespect.
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