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The Glory of the Dying King 3 Hour Service 2016 Reflections

Good Friday 3 Hour Service

 

 

The Glory of the Dying King

“Reflections”

Looking at the Passion of Christ through John’s Gospel

 

The Gospel of St John is a literary masterpiece by any standards; it is profound yet accessible, enigmatic yet engaging, written in beautiful prose and yet beginning with inspiring poetry.  It takes us to the heights of heaven but also plunges us to the depths of human depravity, and yet even here the glory of God shines through.  Indeed, for the evangelist John, the glory shines brightest when in earthly terms things seem to be at their bleakest.  This is what these talks will reflect, I hope that they will take you deeper into the heart of God.

 

The three hours will be divided into six half-hour periods, the reflections are as follows:

1st Reflection

Jesus is an awesome King 

Reading: John 18:1-14, 19-24

Reflection by the Reverend Canon Simon Everett

 

In John’s Gospel all bow down to king Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane

 

‘The Glory of the Dying King’, rather a strange title you may think for this set of Good Friday devotions, but this is exactly what the Evangelist John portrays in his Gospel.  In Mark’s Gospel Jesus is portrayed as the victim; he is done unto – he is led like a lamb to the slaughter.  In Luke the daughters of Jerusalem weep for him as he passes by, and in Luke and Matthew Simon of Cyrene is pressed into carrying the cross.

 

Not so in John’s Gospel, in John’s Gospel Jesus takes charge of the situation and orchestrates his own coronation.  This is the crowning moment of Jesus life and mission, this is where the glory spoken of throughout John’s Gospel is seen most clearly.  At the very outset in his prologue John had spoken of having seen his glory, ‘the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.’ (John 1:14)  And throughout the Gospel this glory is present and witnessed, but never more so than in these final hours.

 

As one commentator says, ‘The greatest paradox at the heart of the gospel is that the glory of Christ is most manifest in the shame of his death on the cross.  In fact, that paradox is the heart of the gospel.  Glory is normally associated with majesty, regal splendour, dazzling wealth and great dignity but, on the cross, Jesus redefines it.  Stripped of power, rights, possessions, clothes and even of life itself, Jesus’ glory shines with an unsurpassed radiance.’1

 

When Jesus is arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane rather than shrink into the horror of his impending fate John portrays him as taking command.  He knows what is about to happen and yet he steps forward to give himself up to his captors.  He asks who it is that they are looking for, and they tell him.  To which Jesus reply’s, “I am he”.  The answer is as simple as it is shocking.  In the setting this, of course, means ‘I am the one’ but for John, with all the ‘I am’ sayings throughout his gospel there is no doubt what he wants us to hear.  The one standing before this band of soldiers and religious leaders, is none other than the one who from all eternity was co-equal to the Father.  He is the I AM, the bread of life, the light of the world, the resurrection and the life, the way, the truth and the life.

 

He is God, and so rather than lay hold of Jesus they shrink back and fall to the ground, in awe of his awesome presence. He even takes charge, ordering them to release his disciples and then rebuking Peter for his well-meant but foolhardy attempt at defense.  Jesus is the central figure choreographing his own arrest.  And likewise at his trial Annas, the high priest’s father-in-law, the real power behind the throne, cannot get the better of Jesus.

 

At the outset of this passion account, it is established that Jesus is in command, he is in control of his destiny, his awesome majesty demands it.

 

[1] Meeting the Saviour – Derek Tidball

 

2nd Reflection

Jesus is an alternative King

Reading: John 18:28 -4

Reflection by the Reverend Jackie Maw

 

What happens when Earthly power and heavenly Power collide

 

The religious powers of this world array themselves against the holy one of Israel

Armed with a battery of lies and hypocrisy.  Allying themselves with Caesar to deliver the fatal blow.  

 

Jesus, stands alone before Pilate truth incarnate, even Pilate cannot fail to see the innocent abroad. But the might of Rome is powerless before the local crowd crowing for Jesus blood. Freedom for Barabbas death for Jesus. 
 

Where the thundering of heaven and the lightning flash? Bring on the full force of heaven’s might to bear on those who preen themselves with illusions of power; who twist and contort the fabric of truth and justice to protect their privilege and defend their citadels of corruption.  Where is the captain of the Lord’s Army leading the assault of the angelic host?

 

But no.  This is not the way of the King of Kings.  We mistake his constraint for powerlessness, his submission to death for helplessness.  We don’t yet know that love is power that his truth cannot be silenced or tarnished that his glory is revealed in suffering
as death gives way to life hate gives way to love revenge melts into compassion.  Enemies become friends.

 

This is the way the Kingdom of Heaven overcomes the Kingdom of this world.  Not with hate and lies not with guns and bombs.

 

The kings of the earth are defeated as the suffering servant is crowned King of Kings.  

 

3rd Reflection

Jesus is a strong King

Reading: John 19:1-18

Reflection by the Reverend Brigid Barrett

 

Despite his weakened state, Jesus carries his own cross – there is no other way.

Pilate represents the world; the source of evil and rebellion against God. Jesus, when challenged agrees he has a kingdom but his kingdom not OF this world, nor FROM this world as some translations have it, but FOR this world. He is claiming to be king but not a worldly leader like Herod or even Caesar. He speaks the truth, he IS the truth.

Pilate is incapable of seeing this; he can only see things from a this-worldly perspective. His understanding of truth comes at the point of a sword, we might say out of the barrel of a gun.

 

Political truth, my truth against your truth, my sword against your sword. In Pilate’s situation as a Roman governor: my truth against your truth, my power against your weakness, my right to crucify you! Roman rulers, like many dictators today, had statues of themselves erected all over the Empire to emphasise the fact of their dominance and power, to show people who was REALLY in charge!. Think Saddam Hussein and Mao Tse Tung in more recent times.

 

John carefully crafts his gospel so we are reflected back to creation, the beginning of things, when God creates a living image of himself, human beings and gives them responsibility for caring for his creation.

Pilate doesn’t want to execute Jesus, he cannot see any real reason to do so and tries as hard as he reasonably can to avert the death sentence. So he has him flogged, a procedure that was carried out with ruthless efficiency by trained soldiers and often resulted in death of the victim.

 

He brings Jesus out again to the people in the courtyard and says to them “Here’s the man”. He doesn’t realise the truth of what he is saying; here is the true image of the true God. Here is the living breathing image of the true emperor of all placed within the emperor’s world so the people can see who was their true master.

 

And yet, his rebellious subjects mock and ridicule him, and shout for his blood.

 

John’s readers know by now that Jesus has indeed behaved as the one who, as of right, reflects God into the world. The crown of thorns – the sharp bits of creation – drawing blood from creation’s Lord!!

 

The words hang over the whole of chapter 19 - “here is the man” – who took on flesh, the living Word:  look at this man and you’ll see your living, loving, bruised and bleeding God.

 

Pilate is in charge, his word is law; he has the power of life and death in the province. He has the power to let Jesus go. But, he is reliant on keeping the peace in a turbulent part of the Empire; his is not an easy posting and better men have lost their jobs and their lives for losing favour with Rome.

 

The threat from the chief priests is a very real one. If they decide to complain to Rome about Pilate’s uncertainty he may well be ordered to kill himself or be executed for allowing trouble to erupt.

 

The chief priests play their trump card as they see Pilate wavering. What they don’t see is their own apostasy in declaring they have no King but Caesar!

 

Pilate has no chance against this argument. Yet he still tries.

 

Jesus doesn’t challenge Pilate’s authority over him but reminds him of the provenance of it.  At the same time we discover more about the nature of Jesus’ own authority as well as the full extent of the position into which the chief priests have backed themselves as they declare “we have no King but Caesar”.

 

I wonder how they felt the next time they heard psalms in the temple? What would they say to the crowds whose hope was in Jesus as the king who would free them from Caesar?

 

These questions haven’t gone away; they still float in the air of our 21st century world. Are we with Pilate, nervously allowing himself to be manoeuvred into a dangerous compromise? Are we with the chief priests, pressing home a political advantage without realising that we are pushing ourselves backwards towards complete capitulation? Or are we with Jesus – silent in the middle, continuing to reflect the love of God into his muddled and tragic world?

 

And so Jesus is sentenced and carries his own cross to the place of execution. Of all the Gospels, John’s is the only one to have Jesus carry his own cross unaided through the teeming streets of the city to Golgotha, the place of the skull, where he is crucified between two others.

 

Thus we have the perfect storm at that moment of crucifixion; the power of evil in the world represented by Rome and the rebellion of God’s chosen people Israel, coming together as the tools of Satan, the accuser, the great force of ant-creation.

 

The climax of Jesus public ministry comes precisely because he believes that the only way that the full force of this anti-creation power could be defeated was for him, anointed with God’s Holy Spirit, to fight the real battle against the real enemy, was to take the full force of evil and accusation upon himself, to let it do its worst with him whereby it would become exhausted, its main force spent.

There was no other way.

 

4th Reflection

Jesus is a universal King

Reading: John 19:19-22

Reflection by the Reverend Jackie Maw

 

The notice on the cross was in Latin, Greek and Hebrew.  Here is the King of the Jews

 

You don’t need language to understand suffering
Displayed for all to see and jeer.

Pain is a universal tongue;
We shudder at the sight of broken bodies,

On hearing cries of anguish

Our nerve endings tremble.

Suffering needs no translation.

 

But take note
Of this crowning moment.
In laying all aside
All is assumed.

Jesus is King.

Death defeated, he is Lord of Life

Mercy poured out, He is Prince of Peace
Sinners set free, he is Redeemer of the World

Our universal enemy lies crushed and fallen
Beneath the feet of the King of kings.

 

 

The declaration goes out from Mount Zion,

to rich and poor,
to the mighty and weak,
to the old and young,
to homes and refugee camps,
to victims and perpetrators,

to the faithful and the faithless,

to the throne of Caesar,

to the ends of the earth.

 

Speak it out
In every language,
‘Jesus is King’

       

5th Reflection

Jesus is a compassionate King

Reading: John 19:23-27

Reflection by the Reverend Brigid Barrett

 

Jesus cares for his mother and the disciple he loved.

Once again John reflects back to the Old Testament, this time to psalm 22, a psalm of abandonment. According to Matthew (27:46) and Mark (15:34) this is the psalm Jesus himself quoted from the cross, or maybe screamed at the moment of his greatest agony: “my God, My God, why did you abandon me?” Or in the words of Strainers Crucifixion “why have you forsaken me?”

 

The psalm continues its awful litany of suffering. One of the many horrors it describes is of the sufferer not only being stripped naked but of seeing people gambling for his clothing. John gives us just enough mention to draw our attention to that psalm, leaving us to draw the implication that Jesus is the righteous sufferer, the fulfilment of that prophecy. He is the one through whose shameful death the weight of Israel’s sin, and behind that the sin of the whole world, is being dealt with.

 

The King of the Jews, as Pilate’s label on the cross describes him, is God’s chosen representative not merely to rule the world but to redeem it.

And so we come to the women standing at the foot of the cross itself.

 

When I was serving in Libya, during Ramadan the young men had a tendency to become violent. Having nothing to eat or drink between sunrise and sunset they got bored and went around in groups often stirring up trouble. I expect low blood sugar and dehydration contributed to their desire for mischief just at it does today.

 

As non-muslims we nurses were strongly advised to remain within the confines of the hospital compound during Ramadan. One thing I found interesting was that, although the local police were very wary of groups of young men and moved in heavy-handedly at the first sign of trouble, young women and boys were free to come and go at will. Presumably the women were expected to shop in order to prepare the fast-breaking meal and boys were not seen as a threat.

 

We know that in the early churchwomen were just as likely to be punished as the men, but maybe this was not the case at the time of Jesus death.

 

Looking at the people gathered around the cross, we see women and a young disciple. We don’t know how old he was but, possibly quite young, a teenager perhaps rather than a working man and therefore not seen as a potential threat.

 

Jesus’ followers, including the disciples, had gone into hiding, too afraid to be seen. Peter, of course, had tried to follow but had been scared into denying he even knew Jesus.

This is the last time we meet Jesus’ mother in the gospel story. At the very beginning of Jesus ministry, at a wedding in Cana, she simply tells the servants to do what he tells them. She knew that the way to get things done was to listen to him and do whatever he said. John clearly tells us that changing water into wine was the first of a sequence of signs by which Jesus clearly revealed his glory; who he really was - and showed his compassion

But, how could Mary know this? How as she, with her friends and the young man, standing at the foot of a cross on which her first-born son is dying in excruciating agony, could she  possibly understand?

 

And yet, in the midst of that very agony, in that horrendous sense of desertion as he bears the weight of all the evil in the world, he sees them and has compassion on them.

In one extraordinary sentence he asks his mother to look after the disciple “Woman, behold your son” but asks the disciple to not only look after his mother but to care for her as he would his own mother. “Behold your mother”.

 

They were not related as far as we know and it would be more customary for Jesus’ own brothers and sisters to look after Mary.

Perhaps It would be difficult for them as kin of a convicted revolutionary, we don’t really know. What we do know is that from that moment, the disciple takes Jesus mother into his own home and welcomes her as though she were his own mother.

With our own benefit of hindsight, knowing what happens afterwards, it would be too easy to assume that Mary understood that this was Jesus’ time, this was the moment that his whole life had been leading up to.

This was the moment when the water of life is turned into the rich wine of God’s love - poured out for all humanity.

       

6th Reflection

Jesus is a liberating King

Reading: John 19:28-37

Reflection by the Reverend Canon Simon Everett

 

So now the end is near and Jesus having endured the cross for approximately six hours not unnaturally thirsts.  Quite possibly the last time he had had a proper drink would have been at the last supper.   Since then so much had happened, not least his different trials, his flogging and other abuse, his hot dusty walk to Golgotha, and then the brutality of being nailed to the cross and left to hang there in the constantly warming heat of the Middle-Eastern sun. It is no wonder Jesus thirsts.

 

But there is a deeper thirst that Jesus feels at this time: a thirst for God – a thirst that was totally foreign to the Son of God.  All his earthly life Jesus had had the closest of relationships with his heavenly Father, but now on the cross that relationship would be broken, as the sins of the world weighed heavy on his shoulders.  In Mark’s Gospel Jesus cries out as he feels abandoned by God, John has Jesus thirsting after his Father.  Perhaps he was meditating on Psalm 63:

O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

 

On hearing Jesus gasp of his thirst, the centurion soaked a sponge in wine vinegar, put it on a hyssop branch and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.  Now if we were Jewish congregation we would recognise that John is conveying something very deep here that linked what was happening here to the Passover festival.  You see In the book of Exodus we read that Moses commanded the elders of Israel to dip a hyssop branch in the blood of the Passover lamb and daub it on the door frame, that the angel of death may Passover that house.  John here is telling us that Jesus is the Passover Lamb, the ultimate Passover Lamb that will take away the sins of the world.


And just to make sure that we make this connection, John goes on to tell us that because it was the day of preparation, and the next day was a special Sabbath, their religious leaders asked if the legs of those crucified might be broken to speed up their asphyxiation.  They did this for the first two prisoners, but when they came to Jesus, they found that he was already dead and so the soldiers ‘did not break his legs’ as they had done with the others.  Again this harps back to the first Passover meal.  The lamb that was sacrificed was not to have any of its bones broken, so that it would be presented whole and without blemish, a pure sacrificial offering.

 

And so what John is doing is bringing us almost full circle (the circle being completed at the resurrection, which shall be preached about on Sunday).  At last we see ‘the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world’ that John the Baptist so enigmatically talked of at the outset of Jesus’ ministry.  Here is the true Passover lamb, Jesus Christ: and by his death the way is opened for people of every nation and every era to be set free from oppression and bondage, from sin and death.  Truly he is the liberating King.

 

And this is the very heart of the good news of the Christian faith.  This is where the glory of God shines most brightly, for those with eyes to see and hearts to understand.  Jesus died once for all that we might enter the Kingdom of God.  Truly, ‘there was no other good enough to pay the price of sin, he only could unlock the gate of heaven and let us in.’ 

 

So glory be to Jesus Christ, our Lord and crucified king.


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