Were you there?
Good Friday: 14th April, 2017
Richard Wilson, Priest Assisting at St Peter's, Eastern Hill
Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 31:1,5,11-12,14-15,16,24; Hebrews 4:14-16;5:7-9; John 18:1-19:42
Well here we are, disciples of the crucified one.
What has happened? It has gone quiet. The clamour of the City has stilled, there is no longer any sound, except maybe a couple of women, Mary Magdalene, the other Mary and Salome, weeping. One or two men, silent. Not even birds — they know when to get out of the way when the earth is shaken.
Gone is the clamour of the triumphant entry into Jerusalem, of six days ago, the cheering and bravado of the supporting cast of a coup d’etat that seems to have fizzled.
Gone is the affirmation of support, and faith and love of the inner circle, so sure, so steadfast, just last night.
Gone are the cries of crucify, crucify, from those who sniffed the change of the wind, saw triumph shattering to defeat and changed sides.
Gone is the one who said, after his feet had been washed, that he would lay down his life, but then denied Him three times.
Gone also, I expect, are the screams of pain as nails tear at flesh, for death descends, now, over the spectacle.
It is all silent except for lamentation.
Where are they, now, the thousands who were fed by Him on the grassy slopes of the mountain? Where are they now the hundreds who were healed by His hand? Where are they now, those who heard the affirming voice of God — this is my beloved in whom I am well pleased?
Where are they now, the crowd with the palms urging the donkey on with its precious burden? Where are they now, the Greeks who came seeking? Where are they now, the Jews who were his kinswomen and men? Where are they now, the twelve whose feet He washed just last night? Where is he, Judas the betrayer. Where is he, Peter, who first saw the Messiah in the Man, but denied it? Where is, Pilate who also saw Him, but feared the crowd?
No, they are all gone. They fear the persecution, now they fear the idea of Messiah, they fear their own seeming foolishness of having been taken in.
The women remain, to lament.
But their lamentation will be in vain unless something else happens. As with all our deaths, there will be weeping, but someone needs to organise the funeral. Someone has to prepare the body, because not to do so allows death to win.
So when everyone else has fled, when everything has gone quiet, two strangers turn up. Two men of wealth and influence. Joseph of Arimathea and a Pharisee, Nicodemus. They take down the body for it to be prepared with the traditional spices and and to be clothed. They organise a tomb, not just any tomb, but a special one, hewn in the rock, never used.
These disciples Joseph and Nicodemus. You are disciples. Are we like Joseph and Nicodemus?
They have not fled, they have stayed in the most dangerous place, they have declared their faith in Him, and, indeed, also to Pilate, the most powerful and most cruel of men. They have taken enormous risks to be disciples, they have spent prodigious wealth for Him. It is costly for them, but they see what lies ahead and they know that it is not death but life, they have come to prepare the body and the tomb, not for a funeral, not for death, but for a resurrection.
You see, lamentation is useless unless it leads to new life. If we are disciples like Joseph and Nicodemus the purpose of our lamentation must be to prepare for what lies ahead. To be like them means to be courageous, to ignore those who cry death, not to flee, to go to those whom we fear and claim the crucified body for life.
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St Peter's Eastern Hill, Melbourne Australia.