Last night we read through much of John 18 and 19 during the Tenebrae (“darkness”) portion of the service. As we went through those chapters I was struck by how much dialogue John reports. While modern adaptations often discomfort us with graphic images of Jesus’ physical suffering, John summarizes it succinctly with a single verse: Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged (19:1). Jesus’ agony on the cross is also understated (“There they crucified him” 19:18).
Rather than detail the physical pain, John seems focused on the spiritual and emotional hurt unleashed on Jesus. It starts with Judas’ betrayal. Peter’s denial is cataloged, as is the soldiers’ mocking of Jesus. There is much made of whether or not Jesus is king, including some of the most grievous words in scripture, “We have no king but the emperor” (19:15).
There is a genius to John’s way of telling the story. He chooses not to draw our attention to the gruesome. He wants us to shutter, but not from the grotesque. He wants us to be humbled by Jesus went through on our behalf, but not as those who can blame others for it. We too easily can say, “Others whipped him. Others caused him to suffer on the cross. His agony was because of those others.”
John’s telling reminds us that Jesus’ body wasn’t all that suffered on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. We are all guilty of betraying, denying, mocking, and hailing others before Jesus. We find ourselves in this story not with a whip or a cross, but with these other forms of hurting our Lord.
Today’s Good Friday service is another reminder of Jesus’ sacrifice and of our complicity. It’s a heavy day, the heaviest day for Christians. It’s a day we can’t bear alone or for long. It’s a day that needs a hopeful, joyful word to follow it, one that helps us prepare for Sunday.
I hope to worship with you today (at noon) and Easter (at 9 or 11:15) at Central as we experience the wide range of emotions our faith inspires.