Friday 2nd April 2021
Good Friday Meditation
(Steve Hamer - Diocesan Reader)
Based on readings found here
Each time we read or hear of the Biblical record of a major event such as Christmas or Easter we can become too familiar with the story and it become less important or interesting. We become blasé, we lack enthusiasm, we might even become bored.
In fact, many would say that the most interesting parts of the Church’s Year will soon be over, as Easter is soon followed by the Ascension, Pentecost and somewhere towards the end of May a reminder of the Trinity.
Just a few months ago we were thinking of a baby born in a stable and now we consider the death of that baby after a short life of about 30 years. Most is unrecorded as he grew up with his parents and his family while working in the Nazareth workshop with Joseph, fabricating and repairing in wood and stone.
Jesus lived at time when sons worked off their debt for their childhood and teenage years working in the family business until their mid-late twenties.
Then Jesus’s ministry commenced – and in just a few years he had a close group of disciples around him, and crowds wanting to hear and see him.
The problem with all historical records or stories around them is that we know the ending – the gift of hindsight. For almost 2000 years the World has known the end of the Easter story. But have you ever considered what the Easter story would be if it ended on Good Friday? Apart from the fact that Christianity would have died there and then – maybe a few column inches in the diaries of the Jewish historian Josephus to record a man who upset the Chief Priest and Roman Governor and ended up dying
in the belief that he was the Son of God.
Each year seems to come yet another theory that Jesus survived the Cross.
They have a common theme that he was only injured, lived for quite some years afterwards, and his burial tomb has been found some 100s of miles outside of the Holy Land.
This morning in the streets of Old Jerusalem the route that Jesus probably took would have been tramped by many sombre pilgrims. The Via Dolorosa (Latin for Way of Suffering) has nine Stations of the Cross – the remaining five are within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at the end of the route. They tread the shiny limestone cobbles in groups, dragging large wooden crosses behind them.
As a young Anglican Christian living in Douglas we grew up thinking the stations of the cross were only to be found among the niches and statues in Calvary Glen below St Anthony’s Social Club off Summerhill. St Matthew’s church in Douglas have them as pictures around the main body of the church. Some in the Anglican church have tended to dismiss them as a form of idolatry – and yet, they can be a wonderful basis for meditation.
Jeanette & I have walked the Via Dolorosa in Old Jerusalem a number of times and have observed the salutary effect it has on pilgrims – and, of course, ourselves
Perhaps some of you can remember the Good Friday walk a former vicar of the Michael used to organise - Revd Cyril Rogers’s walk from the fire station to Ballaugh church along the former railway line, led by a simple wooden cross.
Perhaps you remember Cyril’s satchel of religious drawings and photographs on which to stop and meditate.
For a moment, let us transport ourselves back in time to about 33AD and consider the scene as a pilgrim visiting Jerusalem would have seen it.
The city would have been buzzing with thousands of people, as Passover was one of the important feasts when the faithful tried to get to the city to worship in the Temple.
This large glistening white marble building, set on Mount Moriah (today - Temple Mount) was visually challenging – like nothing else.
For the country folk who had travelled the 70mls or so down from the Galilee it was one of the wonders of the World – a parallel to a young person’s first trip away from the IOM to London. The ‘wow’ factor has increased over the years. When I worked in the London area I used to think that Centre Point at 300ft was high, but along came the NatWest Tower (600ft), Canary Wharf (800ft) and now the Shard at over 1000ft.
For a Jewish person the Temple was the spiritual centre of their faith,
the place that held the shekinah glory of God - ie the place where God’s presence dwells.
It was where the priests sacrificed animals to represent the sins of the people.
It was more than just the mother church of their faith – the worship offered there spiritually supported the many synagogues throughout the land.
It was a place of miracles – a constant reminder of God’s presence.
The smoke always rose upwards, the sacrificial fires never died, etc.
The celebration of Passover is the most important event in the Jewish church calendar – this year it started at sunset last Saturday evening (Sat 27 Mar) and ends at sunset on Easter Day evening (Sun 4 Apr). It is a 7 day period of reflection, remembering the night when the Angel of Death passed over them in exile in Egypt, and using his servant Moses, God led them through the Sea of Reeds into the Promised Land.
So, what’s good about Good Friday ? An internet poll in the IOM Newspapers a few years ago gave the response as 67% saying ‘a day off work’. While for many it may be a day off work, but if you work in the retail trade, in a ‘normal’ year many shops are open. 23% said ‘its religious significance’ – maybe higher that we’d expect. Perhaps we might think that the day has been wrongly named. Historically believed to be a corrupted form of God’s Friday - but we aren’t sure, and even fewer could care.
The record of Good Friday is found in all the four Gospels. Are they accurate ?
In the record of St John it says that from the cross Jesus told John to look after his mother. Did he? – almost certainly yes.
A few years ago Jeanette and I were in Turkey in the forested area just north of Ephesus and visited the house where it was well recorded they had moved to after persecutions of Christians started in Jerusalem. Each year more and more Bible history is being confirmed. Yes, even in the past few weeks more precious fragments of Old Testament scripture from the prophets Zechariah and Nahum have been discovered in a cave by the Dead Sea.
The following is a brief but clear account of the death of Jesus, as taught in schools:
Good Friday was the day when Jesus stood trial before the Priests and later a Roman Governor called Pilate. Although Pilate could not find any wrong in Jesus, he was still sentenced to death by crucifixion. Later that day, after having been beaten and mocked, Jesus was crucified. He died in the afternoon. His body was taken from the cross and put into a guarded tomb.
That’s it – in less than 70 words. But it doesn’t explain why it happened – what had led up to this, what on earth had Jesus done to deserve this grotesque and ultimate punishment ? As we know the Roman Governor, Pilate, washed his hands of the decision
saying he could find no wrong in him.
Who was responsible for his death?
It’s certainly easy to blame Judas. Judas was the catalyst, maybe disappointed that Jesus hadn’t turned out to be a freedom fighter (like Barabbas), and been able to defeat the occupying Romans. Maybe he did it for money – he was the treasurer of the group of disciples and the gospels raise doubt to his honesty.
Were the Jewish religious leaders the ones to blame?
Clearly Jesus had rattled them for a couple of years and they were jealous of his popularity. He challenged their over zealous interpretation of the law (Torah) and their corrupt practices, especially those that went on within the Temple Courts.
By the end of the second century, the established church was beginning to blame the Jews – probably as by this time there were more Gentile believers than Jewish believers.
But, who did Jesus blame ?
In the first words from the cross Jesus said
Father, forgive them for they know not what they do (Lk 23:34).
Them refers to all the soldiers who have whipped and nailed him.
Them refers to all the religious leaders (many puppets of Herod) who had falsely accused him of sedition (rebellion against Rome) and are really the main culprits.
Them refers to all the gawkers in the crowd who were just watching.
Them refers to all the disciples who had run away.
The real murderer was Satan, Prince of this Earth and Prince of Darkness,
moving quietly in the shadows sowing the poisonous thoughts, and soon witnessing a rich harvest. He wants to destroy everything that is good and righteous.
This is a spiritual battle between the forces of good and evil.
It rages down here on Earth and in the Heavenlies,
and like 2000 years ago, without doubt Satan is getting more adversarial – he loves conflict.
It is worth reading all the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion as a more comprehensive picture emerges – they don’t contradict each other, they complement each other.
It must have been an incredible few hours. As the Jewish day ends at sunset (6pm) everything has to be completed beforehand.
There were plenty of signs that this day was going to turn out one they would remember – the mock public trial of Jesus, their choice that a criminal activist (Barabbas) would be released, Pilate insisting on marking his cross ‘King of the Jews’, etc.
Then, at noon the sky darkened and then about 3pm an earthquake shook the city.
The curtain in the Temple was torn from top to bottom (not by human hands) and
the graves of many believers were opened.
"At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.
The earth shook and the rocks split.
The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus' resurrection
they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.
When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed,
"Surely he was the [or a] Son of God!"
In v54 Matthew records that all who saw it were terrified ! – what an understatement.
One modern translation (the Message) says ‘scared to death’.
It was a day when Heaven touched Hell. The Son of God had died.
The description of crucifixion in Psalm 22 would have made no sense to the psalm writer some hundreds of years before, as it describes a Roman method of capital punishment many centuries later. The prophet Isaiah must have wondered what he was prophesising
– but, with the gift of hindsight, we know that the suffering servant is in fact Jesus.
We know the rich man’s burial place refers to Joseph from the Judean city of Arimathea, who came before sunset and placed the broken body of Jesus in his own tomb.
I’d like you to try and hold these unforgettable scenes in your mind until Sunday morning. Then, take a fresh look at the Easter story.
In fact, pray for a renewed vision of the enormity of what happened,
and a renewal of God’s spirit within us.
Two years ago (2019), the main news story of this past week was the devastating fire at Notre Dame, Paris. Those who loved the place as a sanctuary from busy city life, those who found the peace of God within its walls, those who simply marvelled at its architectural splendour – all are gutted, like the building itself. Like the other 13M visitors a year we too have been there a number of times to discover something about this building that lies at the centre of Paris. It has been there for 850 years – a centre of Christianity for a large part of Europe. Ironically, a much-loved beacon of faith in a secular society.
History has shown these places do not lose their spiritual soul and from the ashes life will return – in fact it seems to galvanise people into rebuilding. Look at Coventry or Cologne cathedrals both wrecked by war. 37 years ago York Minister was struck by lightning and has been rebuilt. Many Christians see a parallel, especially in Holy Week,
of the death of Christ on the one hand and the death of one of the places his followers centuries later gather for worship.
Today we remember a dying Jesus, but know that by Sunday he had returned to life.
The Church of God is a body of people and not any building
as Christ is the head of his Church.
May the Lord bless us this Easter
and that our being unable to worship in our churches not hinder us
receiving God’s blessings at this special time.