We have come by a long road, you and I, my friends. From Cana in Galilee, where we celebrated at the wedding-feast together – remember, “You have saved the best wine for last”. From Cana where we saw the Savior work a miracle – turning water into wine, showing all the wedding-guests that he was like a bridegroom himself and that until some consummation unforeseen by us he would be with us like a bridegroom and we should party like a bridegroom’s friends. As if he himself were the source of love and laughter.
And so we began a jolly company, and made our way along the road as happy as the merry men of Sherwood or the knights adventuring from Camelot. Would we be legends too? The thought crept into more than one head.
But then we saw stranger things. There was the woman at the well, in Samaria, and Jesus was there with her. We had gone into town and forgotten all about him – and here he was talking to this outcast. And he promised her something beyond belief. There at Jacob’s Well he said he had something better to offer, better than that old still water of the well, from which she drew (in mid-day, no less, so no one else was about her as she drew up the bucket): he offered living water, running water, flowing water – and he offered it as if he were its source. As if he were the source of life itself.
Then there was the man born blind, to whom he gave sight – as if he were the source of light itself.
And then he came to Bethany – despite our pleadings he walked into almost certain capture, to see one last time his old friend Lazarus. By the time we got there though Lazarus was a stinking corpse. There was no point in staying there any longer. If you had been here, Lord, my brother would not have died. Both sisters said that. And then Jesus said, “Lazarus, come forth.” And the dead man walking, bond as he was by his grave clothes, came out and was alive again.
And there we were, with Jesus, just a man no longer – now appearing to us as the source of life and light, of love and laughter. We knew now he was Christ, the anointed one, the Messiah. He was the king of Israel, and its hope. He was our deliverer, our savior: the liberator that God had promised to his people.
He was more than that, to us. He had led us all this way. He was our teacher, and our leader, and our friend. We had journeyed a long way together, and taken the long road. He set his face toward the city, and we traveled with him.
We came at last to Jerusalem.
It was all over. We had a good week, at the start: an excellent week. There was the procession of the palms, the days in the Temple – do you remember the whip of cords, the overturning of the tables? – and the nights outside town, together. There was the anticipation of the Passover, and the invitation to the feast. Then there was a strange incident at dinner. What you have to do, go on and do it. Jesus said that to Judas. What did that mean? We wondered. And then we went into the garden at Gethsemane, and Peter and James and John went apart a little ways with Jesus, and then he went on alone. And then the soldiers came, and we knew what Judas had been up to. But it was too late.
And we ran for it. Peter tried to stop them – for a while. Then he too fell back.
And they took away our master.
We followed, some of us, at a distance. Peter even got into the high priest’s courtyard – by lying.
The women among us were not so obvious about it, and somehow they managed to stay alongside Jesus as he was led to his death. They followed him up the hill, and he spoke to them: “Do not weep for me, daughters of Jerusalem. Weep for yourselves, and for your children.” What was coming – what, that could be worse than what was happening before their eyes?
For the soldiers took Jesus, and handed him over to the executioners, and they nailed him right onto the cross. And he was raised up – and then he died.
It was a quiet afternoon. We hid out, did ordinary things, or kept to ourselves. And wept.
He was gone. The one who had been our teacher, our most beloved teacher, our master, Rabbouni, and more than that, our friend. For he had made us his friends, on that last night if no other, when he got up from washing our feet and came back to the table and ate with us, and reminded us that – that some day he would not be with us when we gathered but he would be there in the midst of us nevertheless, if we remembered him whenever we came together.
And so we promised we would. Little knowing. The moment would be soon.
And now he was gone. Our hope – and not ours only, Israel’s: and not only that, the hope of the world. That hope was gone now; Pilate and the Temple rats had won.
I feel it.
Good Friday 2008
Hebrews 10:16-25 or Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9
May I speak in the Name of the Son, in the Power of the Holy Spirit, to the Glory of God the Father. AMEN.
Thanks to Steve Moore, Herb O’Driscoll & Esther Davis for good ideas.