THIS IS A LENGTHY BLOG POST. It is the daily day by day walk through the four Gospels, plus a few select key passages that help us experience that Passion week as the disciples and Jesus experienced it. Why did things happen as they did? What actually took place on what day? Who was the first at the tomb? Who were the two disciples on the road to Emmaus?
This was written in the Holy Week of 2020, during the Covid-19 Isolation in New Zealand. The days were early in the isolation and our experience and outcome not then known. We simply walked with Him, day by day, one day at a time. To God be all glory.
~ Michael, privileged to be the Vicar, Pastor and Priest of these good people.
This is a day by day journey through Holy Week
Take a journey, one day at a time. Walk through the week, trying not to jump ahead to what you know, or think you know. The people – including the disciples – did not know “next” at all. It was a pressure cooker time when the Jews knew it was the time, within 1-2 years of when Daniel’s prophesy of the coming of Messiah is to occur. There is zealots trying to start an outright revolution rebellion against Roman rule, Pharisees are trying to be the best religious they can. The Sadducees, rejecting any resurrection, are trying to make the meaning of life here and now better by collaborating with the Romans. The tension is a powder keg and the Passover pilgrimage is swelling Jerusalem’s population greater than other years! The disciples hope Jesus is this Messiah, they believe (as best they could) He is and are wondering how it will unfold. Listen to the key stories Jesus tells this very week… They are pivotal to understanding ourselves and God!
Jesus having stayed with his friends Mary, Martha & Lazarus (who was raised from the dead by Jesus (Luke 11), who hosted Jesus & his entourage of friends! Jesus wants like every pilgrim assembling and ascending (literally) to Jerusalem, to the Temple. The people recognise this Rabbi is something more than the other arising Messiah hopefuls…
*Filmed in 2014, the dates are off by almost a week… simply adjust beginning with 5 April 2020!
And so, we begin the Scriptural Context for this week – take the time to look up these, even using http://biblegateway.com, to read on line. We suggest versions like NRSB ESVUK, NIVUK, or NAS.
Read the passages of the Triumphant entrance – read the stories around Jesus’ words, actions, where they are when it occurs. Realise the times in between the stories told, the walking to and from the city, the conversations at night at the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus (a well to do family – living in an insula – extended family compound)
John 12.1-7 Jesus arrives at Bethany
Matthew 21.1-17 Jesus goes to Jerusalem, the people erupt! The religious leaders plot
Jesus rolls up his sleeves and engages!
It’s just four days away that the religious leaders, groping for power will manipulate the Romans to exercise their brutal execution. But today, the throngs of people swarm to the Temple in Jerusalem. The entire city is a buzz about this peasant Rabbi who is “different” that expected and so life giving, literally and in how we should live and who we should be.
Here is the 2nd video from theologians interestingly framing the events of this day. Note – filmed in 2014, so ignore the date references for that Easter that year.
And if you’ve never done this, continue reading along with us of the events of this one day!
Exodus 12 – Here is where Passover began – the exodus from enslavement to freedom, from no inherent value to a deep inherent value that we cannot perceive of its depths. Jesus makes no sense unless you understand the entire concept of the Passover Lamb and the fore shadow it is to explain Messiah.
Luke 19.41-48 – Jesus pauses on the way into the city from Lazarus’, Mary’s & Martha’s house on the Mount of Olives – seeing the entire city – and the people coming to worship and weeps, because they are not understanding, and the need for such a price for sin is necessary, and then He enters the Temple – and “goes off” (a 2nd rampage for the desecration of the Temple by God’s own people.
Mark 11.12-19 – Mark gives us a bit of detail he gained talking to those disciples, teens at the time, of something that occurs on the way into the city, probably before He reached the Mount of Olives, that Jesus cursed a fig tree w/o fruit (it was not in season & hence was wasn’t with fruit, but Jesus curses it – a statement of judgement on Israel’s losing its place from where salvation (fruit) comes. *read what they discover of the tree on Tuesday – wait for tomorrow. V19 tells us they went back to the home of His friends in the evening. ***I wonder often about the conversations not just along the walk, but those final evenings, sitting in the home, around the fire to keep warm.
Matthew 21.18-chapter 22 – as he so often did, gives us more details, more of the conversation, more of the stories that make much more sense when you understand the identity of God’s people Israel and their rejection of God’s hope and promise in the prophets and then in Him. Beginning at 21.28, Matthew tells the story that the fig tree immediately withered (Mark says they noticed it the next day… that is immediate for a tree to die!) But Matthew goes on to gives us LOTS of the conversations in the Temple this week. He doesn’t tell us exactly what happens on what day. So, we’ll break it up. There is a lot! In Chapter 21, we are given three encounters/stories – Jesus’ words are significant – His authority is questions, he tells the parable of 2 sons and he tells the parable of the tenants, which is teeth gnashing infuriating for the religious powerful. Some of the most famous and important engagements are this week.
A lot begins to happen on Tuesday – Thursday… We so often read the things that occur in these days as the independent little gum drop-off Jesus’ teaching and lose the perspective when they are being said. In looking at Holy Week, we tend to jump from Palm Sunday to the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday.
But we’re going to break it down and look at what takes place on these days. We do not know where each day begins and breaks completely, but we do have what occurs and when you read these stories and realise they occurred this week – the heat of the moment is apparent and undeniable.
First – the video clip that gives us perspective: Don’t miss this keti (bag/container) holding our context… (Always remember real world gritty context in studying Scripture!)
So we dig into the texts for today – our biggest reading day – but DO NOT miss it – take the time – READ IT! Become enthralled with the great drama unfolding today!
Matthew 23 – We pick up this day with the estimation that the closing of chapter 22, closes Monday… we’re not sure, but it’s the best guide we have. So, at chapter 23 it gets very “salty!” Most of this chapter is Jesus, being flat over it. He loses his temper and begins screaming, you know the kind where the emotions are so extreme that as one screams, the ache in tears flow, and spittle flies and the words are strained as he doesn’t even breathe enough and is straining to get words our with each exhausted breath! The words chosen are sharp in English, but in the original language they are like shards of glass! They would and did send the Pharisees over the edge… the ones who were so zealous to follow God so intently are now enraged because their earnest pursuit has become the ends to the means – they defend their religiosity and miss God in the process! He goes on to Lament over the city that rejected Him… their last hope. Scholars conclude Jesus so wanted them to get it – He knew they wouldn’t, but He hoped… Sure God the Father knew the outcome, and as He shared all with Jesus in human form, there is – like in our families – hope until it is extinguished…
Matthew 24, probably Tuesday afternoon – It’s the late afternoon, Jesus has had more than one row with the Temple leadership. The Sadducees (theological heretics and
liberals, but in with the Romans are already plotting His death, but the Pharisees were trying to “win” the argument… Now, Jesus leaves, and the young disciples still don’t get it – they are admiring this Herodian adorned Temple… the sad reflection of the original Temple rebuilt 400 years earlier when they returned from Babylon, but Herod had done a massive reno, expansion and dress up – so it was nouvo riche… tonsil town… the young ones fell for the exterior shine [That ever happen to you, to some churches where the show is so impressive, but no real change internal occurs?] Note this is the bookend to the indicting biting words of Jesus that morning with the Pharisees…over just this. Jesus, tells the disciples some things… some of the most prophetic and shrouded texts argued over for 2K years now… the reframing of worship and Temple and God’s presence [Remember, God never returned to the Holy of Holies in the 2nd Temple]. He foreshadows the end of times… His return and He gives us a metaphoric image of His Kingdom coming. One important note – Prophesy is always unfurled in layers… immediate, intermediate and complete final… Passover is a great example… It was the immediate and the shadow of the coming Christ and the final eternal and permanent exodus of God’s people from a fallen world… so it is here with these great passages…
Mark 11.27-chapter 13… Mark (Same young John Mark with Barnabas and Paul) gives us insights from his fireside chats with the disciples years later… He is usually the most straight to the point, wanting Romans to “get it” he paints the fast paced picture of an action movie, but here he gives us details of the day that actually fill in the detailed author (Matthew). He gives us some of the arguments that led up to Matthew chapter 25… the going ape crazy mad Jesus did makes sense when you read Mark’s words on this day.
Luke – chapters 20-22 Luke gives us even more detail, filling out the very same conversations, but with a different set of stories told him.
When you read this – you’ll become excited – read the three passages… Fall in love with this great story! See how the three authors align while telling just a bit more to fill it in!
John – John’s big day is Thursday, the conversation at the Last Supper. John is silent on the days Palm Sunday, and Monday-Wednesday. We don’t know why. He was the youngest, maybe 15/16 at this time. He would have absorbed it all! *Don’t cast today’s adolescence upon the young man he was in that society at this time, but he was yet being formed and learning… but He was also relationally the closest to Jesus. Was He simply too moved? Not allowed by the Spirit to share what He saw and knew? Did it hurt too much? What did Jesus share with Him that we’ll not know until we arrive?
Enjoy this mystery playing itself out. Resist even allowing your mind to rush to Sunday… they didn’t know the story… they did not yet even grasp the great passages in the Old Testament that were being fulfilled and realised in the very moment. So stay with the heated reality of the year and Passover – with the pilgrim crowds, stopping at the baptismal pools to express their repentance as they were baptised and cleansed in preparation for going to the Temple. *By the way, we can fully assume, living as the Jew He was, Jesus was baptised for the cleansing rites on the way to the Temple also.
Have a blessed Holy Week!
If you’re just discovering these posts, we’re taking the journey through Holy Week, one day at a time, experiencing it first hand. We do not jump ahead using our 20/20 hind site, but strive to not know “next” (as they did not) but to journey moment by moment, tasting the disharmonious gritty reality. You can look back and read each day and catch up with us.
Also during this journey, we’re reading the relevant passages for the day, what took place, what did not, what was said – pivotal shaping conversations that are more poignant by the day they are spoken. Come along… as we “strive to follow the Rabbi.”
We begin with our short context video:
Now we look into our passages:
The key events are the final conversations publicly Jesus has with people, with the Jews in Jerusalem for Passover, with the religious leaders; Judas makes is betrayal a reality; and the infamous dinner with his friends where one of them pours out a perfume worth 2yrs wages on his feet!
Matthew shares with us three key passages we record as chapter 25 (chapter and verse were not added until roughly 1500 AD)… Jesus tell the story of the ten virgins waiting for the bridge groom to appear & the feast banquet; then the story of the talents (stewarding what we’re given to grow the Kingdom; and finally a very sober conversation on judgment, hell and the evidence of being a disciple of “The Rabbi” being in our actions for others, especially the lost, the last and the least… how faith in Him is not merely intellectual ascent/capitulation/agreement, but actually living from the truth you profess. `
Chapter 25 are His last public words and ministry. Profound to reflect upon that as we stare at the page.
For Matthew Wednesday ends with chapter 26.1-13. In these verses we get two pivotal actions. First, Jesus reminds them (again) that He WILL be betrayed, condemned and murdered – and here He specifies exactly how, crucifixion. The second and precious revelation from Matthew is this last dinner. It’s Wednesday night – they are with their wealthy friends, at the home/insula of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. I always wonder how many. An extended family insula was often 60-80 people. Being wealthy, were there more servants also? How many of Jesus’ disciples were there – the twelve we know about, but how wide did the circle go? Can you see Mary and Martha preparing for this time – the hours and days to plan a pre-Passover banquet for what was possibly 130-150 people!? Then during/after the meal, but while everyone was still gathered reclining (they lay on huge pillows around really low tables or large cloths laid out with the dishes on them and everyone reached into the middle. If you’ve ever eaten Middle Eastern or African fare in traditional contexts, it is a very different and intimate (not Covid-19 agreeable!) way of eating and makes what is intimate more so. Here we are told a woman, but other texts tell us it was Mary. She comes in an pours a very expensive jar of perfume ointment, that would not pour as we think pour but would be like a hair product be rubbed into the skin. She fills the place with this spicy aromatic nard, that would be normally saved for a burial (bringing beauty in the face of the stench of death). Judas revolts against this. They later understand why. Jesus replies defending her preparation (liturgical ontological drama acting out what is about to happen) for his burial. He celebrates even the extravagant act, flying in the face of a spirit of a spirit of depravation. He then closes with a declaration that her sacrifice will be remembered globally eternally.
Mark’s contribution to this day is more narrow. He gives us a mere 11 verses. (ch14.1-11) He tells us only that it’s Wednesday, the religious leaders are openly plotting to kill Jesus. [I wonder how the disciples knew this. Did a later convert give them more of the story years after? Did an insider leak it? Was it Nicodemus who let the cat out of the bag in a secret messenger?] Mark records Lazarus as “Simon the Leper.” Strange as it is to us, people were often known by two names… not like our first-last, but for other reasons we’ll save here. It is possible that his name “was” Simon and he was a leper and his death was from that dreaded cursed disease. After being raised, and healed, it was not uncommon to change one’s name to mark a major shift in one’s life… in this case, resurrection would certainly mark that and be worth the name change to draw even more attention to it. *We can ask when we “get home.” We get the same unnamed woman anointing Jesus with the perfume. Finally, we get a bit more detail with Judas actually sealing the deal and accepting the bribe money after the dinner, at night, under the cover of darkness. What sent Judas from a conspirator to treacherous traitor? Was it this sacrificial act that did it – that incensed this former zealot’s rage? Did he act out of emotional passionate fury? How many mistakes unrecoverable occur in such passionate loss of control? How did the arguments snare and keep him muttering to himself as he walked into Jerusalem at night, waiting to meet with Ciapahas and the chief leaders of the Sanhedrin? Is it this blind rage that opened him up to literally becoming possessed by Lucifer himself as the other Scriptural passages refer?
Luke picks up in chapter 22, v1-6, just as the other writers do, giving us insight into the betrayal by Judas. v7 picks up with the Thursday morning…
John speaks up after so much silence here and unpacks the story wider. His young eyes observing saw things from such innocent perspective! John tells us Martha is still Martha – using her gifts serving! *Reminds me of so many at our church who’s call and charism is serving humbly within attention desired. Beautiful the Martha’s amongst us! Then he shares Mary’s extravagant and humble act and names her whereas the others only referred to her as a woman (obviously wealthy because she had the ability to make such an offering and act of love and worship).
Now John gives us a closer peak: Ordinary people (local and pilgrim we can but pragmatically assume) find out and come to eaves drop to see Jesus and to see Lazarus. John reveals that the religious leaders also include the plot to kill Lazarus! [Again, who told them this insider knowledge? And what we’re not told and rarely ask – what happened to this family? Did the family (60-80+) have to flea when Jesus was murdered? Where did they go? What was their life for daring to be so publicly supportive of this renegade Rabbi? Here is another story to be unpacked over one of those reclined meals when we get home! Or were they arrested and murdered also? What happened to their estate, probably of olives, grain, grapes… was it confiscated by the religious and/or Roman leaders?] He ends at v10 & 11, telling us that many people left that evening believing/trusting Jesus because of His words and seeing Lazarus and probably hearing his testimony… So how many were there? What a huge gathering and how it threatened the religious leaders!
A lot happening in a short time. This meal, noted as being special, was huge. It had a lot of people. Did the family also feed the seekers? We have a great example of simply sacrificial and rather inconvenient, even in being imposed upon by the seekers, example of living out the Kingdom, opening up and simply telling the story of Jesus and a testifying of what we know from experiencing Him… nothing more.
Scary and yet exciting times. Tomorrow – the Passover preparation and meal.
Go well in peace and reflection, space for silence and hearing from Him. *A good day to practice the centring prayer!
Maundy Thursday, 9 April 2020 – Our daily step by step journey through Holy Week ~ our longest day and longest devotional for the journey.
The betrayal solemnised, Last Supper & washing of feet, the dark arrest & illegal Jewish ruling religious leaders’ trial ~
We’ve reached the final act. Today, the drama escalates and begins what Lucifer thought would be the final blow – the crushing heart wound to hurt God the Father by destroying any hope of reconciliation between God and His creation, His people. His desire was to stop Messiah’s victory – to end any hope of redemption, eternal life for us – all of us…. to hurt God by those He loves missing from “home.” Consider this…
Now let us enter the drama:
First, let us watch the short contextual video (remember, this is a 2014 product but equally applicable any year), to know the wider narrative at play.
Now, we read the passages of this one day. There is a lot with a lot – life long eternal implications that mature saints need to get, so this one weekend, read along, but read the passages directly. Do not skim, but swim.
We pick up in chapter 26, beginning at verse 17. Matthew tells us immediately preceding that Judas had secured Jesus’ betrayal and was given the 30 pieces of silver. Jesus directs his disciples, probably two-three, to go into the city of Jerusalem and prepare the appropriate Passover Lamb, to a certain man – we do not know whom, but obviously one known, trusted and wealthy enough to host a large group (70? 120? more?). Was this possibly Joseph of Arimathea, who provided the private tomb prepared for his own burial?
The Passover meal begins, a 1500 year old worship practice of Passover. There was a liturgy they followed and it involved four cups, and matzo bread (non leavened). Remember – this was a remembering and an expectation of God’s final and ultimate redemption (buying us back from slavery) through His coming Messiah. Look back to the exodus – look forward to our final exodus. Do NOT miss this.
During the meal – Jesus flat tells them He is about to be betrayed and clearly prophesies what is immediately fulfilled in Judas dipping into the main dish with Jesus… Jesus tells Judas to go do what he’s about to do. Judas leaves. Then Jesus institutes the action we are to – and we do – practice until He returns – of communion. This is not a “rite” in that it does anything to advance your legal standing to be saved. It in itself does not make one innocent of sin – but is the participation with Christ, with the church (all others believers) in what Jesus did all the time… how many of the stories we are given include Jesus eating with people and through the agreement and participation in the meal with them, the conversation, the belonging, the acceptance, the repentance, do we see people come to salvation, to hope, to relationship, to a change of life? Something happens when we “eat the meal” with Jesus… now with God’s Spirit in us, how many lives can be changed by our same imitation of Him to eat with others, to bless, listen, share His hope in word and deed? In this meal, we’re given the oh so precious and familiar words… take, eat… drink this, all of you…
A note on Eucharist: As Anglicans, like our Catholic and Orthodox family, we practice Eucharist [The Great Thanksgiving] very often, in most services! Our anabaptist family tends to do this less frequently. Yet, when they do participate in it, they hold the same precious value in it. We begin with the Eucharist – the great prayer, which is a long collect, if you will, where we proclaim and profess back to God what it is we hold, believe and live… this is what we are celebrating when we get to the Communion. The words vary a little by season (Lent, Easter, Pentecost, Advent, special patronal and festival days and the ordinary growth seasons… We in NZ have several forms of the liturgy (habit in our order of worship) we choose. The vicar often decides which by season or occasion. For example during Lent, we use the traditional (closely aligned to the old British Book of Common Prayer) liturgy found on p404. When we get to Easter and Eastertide (season between Easter and Ascenasion-Pentecost) we use celebratory forms, such as those on p456 or p476. These variations help keep us fresh and approach the same worship from different perspectives.
During this meal, Jesus shares a lot of things – final instructions to His closest friends… more than the 12 we almost are assured of. He tells Peter he will deny Christ 3 times before dawn, also He will die but rise from the dead. We know they did not understand what they interpreted He was saying – I personally suspect they felt the tension and the looming bigger events, but at the conscious level couldn’t even process what was being said… a human can’t fathom a person raising themselves and a dead Messiah can’t save anyone…
Matthew doesn’t give us the foot washing event. Not sure why, but jumps to the Garden, where they adjourned to, and Jesus goes to pray and the disciples (not sure how many, but at least the 12) and He goes deeper into this garden with just the closest three… they try and pray, but it’s now very late. The events of the past week have exhausted them physically, mentally, emotionally & spiritually…carrying the weight of what is happening would wear on all of us, so let us be kind to them over this. They fall asleep a few times. Jesus’ alone journey begins. No more hugs, no more kind words, no more sleep as a human. No more meals. No more quiet sea shore mornings. It’s over.
Judas shows up with what the accounts tell us is more than 600 Jewish guards/soldiers. Why did they think they needed a battalion? Was He ever violent to warrant this? Peter slashing out, cuts off the ear of a slave of the High Priest himself… Jesus intervenes and heals even a betrayer. Stop and consider this when you/we want to judge and be harsh with unrepentant people who do not worship Him. *I look forward to knowing what came of this person later after all these events played out.
It’s now very late, and He is taken to the Sanhedrin to be tried – looking for evidence to present in the company of the 71 (normally 70 elder priests, but with the Roman appointment of Caiaphas as High Priest, they had two high priests). They are very unbecoming and cruel – not like God worshippers, but then again, how often do we see notarised public church figures speaking so worldly and unlike Christ today?
While probably after midnight, due to the length of events tomorrow, we continue through the Jewish religious trials. Jesus remains quiet for most of their accusations, but does finally state the truth of who He is – they go nuts! They beat him wit their fists, spit on him and rip his clothes. They would kill him themselves had the Romans not removed the right of execution from them and reserved that for the Roman Governor. Their words mock him to prophesy who hit him. Obviously, He is beaten so bad, He cannot even see them? Blood? Swollen and broken eye sockets?
At least one disciple followed and is just outside the courts, hearing the vitriol acts inside… he is afraid and denies knowing Christ three times and the cock crows – it is almost dawn. Peter ran away and sobbed “bitterly” it tells us.
Mark’s account picks up in chapter 14 at verse 12. We get the same account of preparation, same account of of betrayal and a brief account of Communion. We do get one different statement… Jesus saying, “I’m telling you the truth, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it anew in the Kingdom of God.” Its meaning has been interpreted many ways – including as a directive to not drink anything fermented (wine) until Christ returns… it’s not saying this. It could be as simple as He is literally about to die… but He was with them over almost fifty days after He arose… he ate with them and wine was the common drink… But it is the last Passover – the last remembering and celebrating our redemption shared together… is it so simple as the next time we celebrate this, it will be Your redemption feast? The wedding feast featuring in so many of the stories of the bridegroom coming, when our redemption is consummated?
We get actually a more detailed account of the Garden conversation, and then a detailed account about the Garden, including one interesting point only shared here… Mark refers to a “certain young man was following Him.” Most scholars expect and believe this was John, who also never uses his own name in referring to Himself. And it is a pretty humbling event Mark shares… so was he protecting a little dignity? But this young man was grabbed (Was John recognised and identified by Judas to the guards? John was always the closest and “with” Jesus, next to Him) and as he squirmed to get away – instinctive fight for your life, he comes out of the single layer tunic Mark describes and runs away literally naked. Can you not see a 16 year old young man, naked as the day of birth, running away in the night, cold and trying to hide – fortunately – no street lights! Where did he go?
Mark then goes on to tell us about the illegal trial (done in secrecy and at night – not allowed for those reasons!). Mark gives us a bit more detail on Peter’s experience with same result. He gives us a similar account of the trial.
Even writing this to you, the darkness feels heavy – like I felt watching the second Lord of the Rings movie… we were left in the dark situation where though we knew the end of the story, it was heavy and we had to endure it until the 3rd movie was released months and months later.
Luke joins the story at chapter 22. He doesn’t distinguish Wednesday night and Thursday morning but does five us some added story from the supper that night, including revealing an interesting if not embarrassing conversation amongst His disciples, presumably the 12 – 16-19 years old… They are overwhelmed, but also not blind to the events, what ever they will be are about to unfold – Jesus will be Messiah, save them. They did not understand the new era of Christ’s people becoming the church, not only the nation of Israel and the Hebrew people. They expected God’s Kingdom to be established in the immediate future and they’d be given – they were told they would rule with Him by Jesus! – and in this supper, which would have been several hours long – they got into a dispute about who would be honoured the most. Is this insight that it was amongst the three (James, John and Peter)? We’re not told for sure, but Jesus sets it straight… be the least, not seeking glory but the opportunity to serve. What a foundational ethos for God’s people. Do not move past this without reflecting upon your own, our own lives following Him and our place in business, family, friends, neighbourhood, and its implications!
Jesus shares a bit more into Peter’s story – Satan, Lucifer himself, has asked God the Father for permission to “sift” Peter and was given God’s permission. Jesus tells Peter He has prayed for him. It’s not just about the 3 denials, but his role and life in the future – decades of leading the church into the future. Imagine Jesus saying this to you! Take a moment and consider Jesus telling you this first hand.
Luke gives us a little more of the night’s conversation: Jesus goes on to tell them about a posture of how they are to live in the years to come, as key leaders of the church, and of persecution.
Luke gives us a similar account of the arrest, trial and Peter. The chapter ends with Jesus’ illegal trial, but Luke does not give us a peak in that they blindfolded Him as they mocked and hit Him, so as He could not even brace and turn away from the punches and hits and humiliations.
John gives us something unique. A first hand witness literally sitting next to (lying actually on the large pillows at floor level, leaning literally back against Jesus’ chest). John was the youngest, and has moved from 12 or so to 16, boy to man in his time with Jesus. They are very close.
For reasons we are not sure, John, goes from Palm Sunday to a brief inclusion of Greek God seekers wanting to see Jesus. We
re not given the entire conversations, other than Jesus makes statements that are opening knowing Him to non-Hebrews. (chapter 12, v20-26). John then tells us about His prophesies of drying and resurrection.
John does include a snippet of a prayer entrusting Himself to His Father for what is coming and of coming judgement. We as 21st century Christians find this very uncomfortable. We are culturally against making anything final, exclusive and not 100% inclusive. Judgement by God is not often even discussed, but to miss it is irresponsible and defines a Jesus, a God, we fashion after our own time and liking, and trimming away anything we do not like, I warn against this – for it diminishes the absolute lost state and hopeless reality that there is not one thing we do to save ourselves, but it is all God’s initiation and fulfilment, including the ability to even understand and even accept this hope of God… We don’t like the lost helpless state and idea that we do not one thing to merit (deserve or earn) salvation, but that is the very truth that makes our salvation so precious! For no earned reason, we are loved (Romans 5-8).
At chapter 13, Luke get to the Passover Meal (Last Supper). John is the only one to include the washing of their feet. Normally done at the arrival, this is done after eating, and not by a servant, but by Jesus Himself. The meal, occurring over hours and singing afterwards, included a lot of people. I cannot conceive getting to know Jesus through the texts that He only washed the twelve, but all of the guests… dozens. Wow! Consider how long this took, how awkward. We get Judas’ betrayal.
What we do not get from John is the Communion event. John does give us some very, very important words Jesus said – what stuck John as more important – about what Jesus said as instruction to them, reminders for who they are – we are – in relationship to God. From Chapter 14 through 17 (4 chapters!) we get precious words and Jesus’ “priestly prayer – as Messiah, as the Priest in the order of Melchizadek. He ends with the future, the final conclusioln.
In Chapter 18, John goes into a little more detail on the arrest conversation. He tells us at proclamation of Him being Jesus, they fell back on the ground. What happened in the spiritual realm for them to be physically “floored?”
John does give us one bit of new news – with the religious soldiers was a cohort of Roman legionnaires – 100 soldiers with a Centurion in charge. The night ends with Jesus before the Sanhedrin, a little more details of the dialogue and Peter’s denials in a touch more detail. As he and Peter were very close, Peter would have shared the event over time with John. He had the insider’s view. His account ends at 18.27.
Take time today to reflect. Make space for the service we would normally gather for. Re-read the familiar passages and enter as a first hand observer to the events.
In your labour to enter these most cataclysmic events of this day, remember they did not have a programme to forecast “next” – so imagine the events playing out, changing life forever. No one asked them if they were ready or agree. It’s like the reality we face now. Everything changed in one day… and here we are, no one asking or softening the reality we now endure and will for. years. I hope it gives you empathy, and hope for yourself as you follow the Rabbi.
I hope this makes Jesus even more human in His Divinity. I hope it makes the spiritual war so huge behind the surface screen, that you see our life here differently and within an eternal paradigm and I hope you love Him more, having share d a touch more intimately the moments of these days. I know my relationship with soldiers with whom I served and suffered, laughed and cried, is eternally bonded in a fond love that brings tears years later at the thought of such deep precious brotherhood. May you experience that with Him, with the named and un-named disciples and the church since.
*Look for the Maundy Thursday service to be published in a few hours. We lament that we cannot share the Eucharist or our habits of stripping the church as we mourn His death and humiliation, His separation and taking upon Himself the sins of the world, the weight of the Father’s wrath. As dark as it is, sharing it and knowing of Sunday makes is possible and deeply precious. …next year our fast will be over.
Good Friday 10 April 2020
Covid-19 Physical Isolation
Day 6 of our journey through the Passion Week, one day at a time. If you’ve just stumbled across this, we are walking through this week, one step and event at a time. Slowing the story down to real time… seeing the recorded events and conversations.
Today we reach the crest of the Passion. Ever pause to wonder why this week is called “The Passion of the Christ?” The essence is in its defining. A simple search brings this to us ~ “from Late Latin passionem (nominative passio) “suffering, enduring,” from past-participle stem of Latin pati “to endure, undergo, experience,” a word of uncertain origin. The notion is “that which must be endured.” The sense was extended to the sufferings of martyrs, and suffering and pain generally.”
I cannot conceive that the disciples who knew Jesus personally – ate, walked, slept, travelling, bathed and even went toilet with Jesus would be comfortable, if not enraged, that we call this “Good Friday” for it was the darkest day in their lives. Sure, they’d understand this is the day when God’s wrath against sin was exhausted, not just in what he endured physically, mentally and emotionally, but the spiritual realities we do not comprehend in the Father’s turning away, and pouring all His wrath onto His Son, the one He loves so, so, so, so, so, so dearly. This is the day we are washed clean.
So we pick up our story… Maundy Thursday actually closes after midnight, early on this very day. Jesus never went to sleep or was given rest. From the Passover Meal and prayer in the garden, came arrest, physical abuse and an illegal trial where he was beaten brutally – by Israel’s top Rabbi’s no less, mocked, humiliated and shamed, rejected and sent to the Roman Governor for judgment. Stop and think of this…. the spiritual (& civic in that society) leaders of all the Jewish people did this. How could such hate, such rage in the name of defending God (as if He needs defending) bring about the very antithesis of God’s nature and call upon us as His people, how we are to live?
First, our contextual video clip:
As we now turn to the texts, you’ll find Matthew, Mark and Luke giving us great detail on the event itself, marking the gruesome pain, and then John, while not ignoring this suffering, marks it as the Phoenix – the glory of God in and through this suffering. He is the one, writing last, decades later, no longer the teen, alone at Patmos Island, exiled, gives us the perspective of “GOOD” Friday.
Matthew: Matthew, telling this biography of Jesus for Jewish audiences, gives us many details, often attesting to the fulfilment of Old Testament prophesies, establishing He is Messiah. Here, Matthew tells us of Judas’ remorse and suicide. It is later said, it wold be better if – for Judas’ sake – he had never been born, or even thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck… We also get other texts of his damnation. Harsh, but here, there is mercy revealing he did have real remorse and tried to return the bribe and repent. The religious leaders who worked the deal with him, rejected him, even in their minds, leaving him damned. Judas hangs himself and we find the religious leaders thinking only external and not their heart/souls, do not return the money to their treasury, but buy a field, worthless will not grow produce, and make it a burial ground for the poor, and Judas was its first body.
Most of the chapter is committed to the events of the trial, condemnation and the crucifixion. Let us allow the texts to tell the story. Matthew does include the noted cry from Jesus, “My God, My God [the name Adonai used, meaning Lord, used as they felt God’s personal name, I AM, YAHWEH, was too sacred to even utter… Jesus follows this and does not even dare to call His own Father by this intimate name in this suffering sacrifice].
After Jesus dies, there is the earthquake and Matthew gives us the insight of the centurion proclaiming Jesus was the Son of God… it is recorded as an especially violent quake that destroyed many buildings and badly damaged the Temple. Other authors give us more details of the impact of this quake – check this out, for here is where the Temple veil is torn into and this has huge meaning for our relationship with God.
Matthew closes the crucifixion with the revelation that there were many women there, those who looked after Jesus, the 12 and the next circle of disciples. Here we get that this includes the three Mary’s and we get a little more detail about them. They travelled with Jesus. Did you ever realise that Mary, his mum, travelled with them as Jesus spoke in Palestine? We also get that Mary of Magdala was there and that his aunt, Mary (see John’s explanation of who she is, also one of the two on the road to Emmaus on the Sunday evening), that she is the mum of the sons of Zebedee. These sons are two of the disciples, John (youngest and closest to Jesus) and his brother, an apostle, James. They were from one of the Pharisaic villages of Bethsaida or Capernaum, probably the former. Jesus called them the Sons of Thunder. Every wonder why? These two in zealous passion asked Jesus if they could called down lightning (hence, the thunder) on people… This “pet name” was actually Jesus’ sense of humour and fond picking on them! *Ever think how humorous and fun Jesus was! How even years later, they would laugh at the reminder of that day in their zealous youth they had asked for this?
Mark: Mark picks up at Chapter 15. We get the summarised version of the Jewish leaders’ “trial.” Mark is writing to modern practical Romans and Romanised Greeks. They are #8 wire people – a lot like Kiwis… Mark gets to the point. What’s important to them, being subjects of Caesar and Romans, is the imperial story… a reminder that we all see the world through our own lens and perspective place on the table.
We get the trial (a little streamed lined, but the information is thorough. We then get more of the humiliation (v 16-20) and beatings. Mark gives us the shaming humiliations hurled at Jesus, naked and literally nailed to the cross. We get the story of the crucifixion in some detail you may not appreciate. Mark tells us He is crucified (it took a couple of minutes to tie down and nail the victim to a cross… it was fast and thorough) took place at the 3rd hour (9am). He later says that Jesus died at the ninth hour (3pm). Six hours in our minds seems a long time to hand and experience the excruciating suffering of the nails suspending you, the tearing ligaments and muscles and the slow drowning as your lungs fill with fluid because you cannot get a full breath. But for the Romans, they were accustomed to a victim dying over days of this! Yes, Jesus had been so badly beaten, brutalised leading up to this, but He would have also been fit, trim and strong (life was physical and he travelled a lot). They wold have expected Him to last at least 24 hours. Mark gives us the final words, and his death, passing from life to death. We get the Temple veil being torn top to bottom in half. It was 20 cubits wide, long and high (30 feet, just over 9m) (see 1 Kings 6).
The author of Hebrews explains (chapter 10) the meaning of this tearing… He is referring to Isaiah 59, and Exodus 33, Deuteronomy 4 and Hebrews 12 & even John 2, where we’re given the “liturgy” physical symbology to explain spiritual truths – that we’re separated from God by our sin. The priests would go behind the veil only once a year and through careful preparation & conditions. The tearing is significant because we’re not longer separated, no longer hiding because of our sin. We’re free! We can all approach directly to God, the Father – because of Jesus propitiation (worthy and acceptable and accepted sacrifice – the Lamb unblemished (no sin contaminating Him) for us – hence the Old Testament covenant requiring their sacrifices be without blemish… for us. The book of Hebrews makes this clear (see chapters 8-12 especially, but they are contextualised by the first seven chapters.
Luke continues his account after the illegal night trial but he subset of the Sanhedrin, at chapter 22, verse 66, “And when it was day…” The abbreviated condemnation is formalised and Jesus is drug off to Pilate. We get the detail that Pilate worked political manipulation and became friends with the powerless Jewish “king” of that province that day because Pilate gave Herod opportunity to weigh in on the situation – something Pilate was not required to do. Luke gives us the details that there were actually two humiliating beatings and mocking by soldiers, this time by Herod’s troops also and the source of the purple robe… from Herod, for the garrison of Romans would not have had a purple robe.
Every wonder why purple is the noted “royal colour?” The dye used came exclusively from squids deep in the ocean and were very difficult to obtain, so rare and expensive. If one had any garment baptised (emerged & dyed the colour of it’s host (water), one was very wealthy… a sign of God’s favour.
Luke shares how Pilate actually attempted to release Jesus. Luke tells us Barabbas was more than a common robber, but a terrorist and murderer… it would be of Romans, probably soldiers) so they certainly would NOT want him of anyone released! They emotively would be spitting, the soldiers raging that Pilate might release him. This alone would be motive for Pilate to NOT release Barabbas!
At 23.6 we get the story no one else tells, the pressing of Simon by Roman soldiers to carry Jesus’ cross. Simon from Cyrene, a pilgrim, is grabbed and forced to help. Why? Obviously the brutal beatings have so weakened him, he can’t walk and carry the heavy weight of the cross beam to which he was tied. We’re told the women at this point were crying emotively in grief. Jesus has some profound prophetic words about the fate of Israel, as well as the foreshadow of final judgement when evil has it’s short free reign. Here as Jesus is crucified, we get Jesus’ words to forgive them for them have no idea what they are doing. Luke also gives us the insight into the repenting thief (crucifixion was reserved for murder and non-Roman citizens), so this robber had also murdered some one in the robbery. We get the forgiveness and salvation promise for him from Jesus. Luke gives us this story including the interaction with multiple people. Amazing paradigm and details! Who and how many did he interview to know all of this?
Luke closes the crucifixion with details about two groups of people. Here we get the insight that the disciples and others were present, watching at a distance – naturally and with good reason afraid they’d be crucified next ! Mob rage was already obvious and the Romans were known to execute dozens at the drop of a hat, so-to-speak. We also get the insight that the crowds, masses of them – those who had sung “Hosannah!” just six days ago, now recognise the reality and mourn to the point of beating their chests in lament. How much did they understand a this point? Imagine – there was grace for them, for many came to faith mere weeks later!
John: We pick up the story in chapter 18, verse 12, an overlap of yesterday – but for a point. You see the conspiracy directly involving the Romans, as the Roman cohort (500, five centuries, so five centurions leading, led by the Primus Pilus). They take Jesus to Annas, the High Priests’ (Caiaphas) Father-in-Law. This is the illegal trial at night, not the sitting of the whole Sanhedrin. So a sub-set with a decided agenda works in the shadows… [Note how evil agendas always work outside the main until they can completely over rule the established order – this is true today]
At chapter 19, we continue, with Jesus being taken to Pilate. [We’ll see the delineation that Jesus was taken at dawn to the entire Sanhedrin to validate and approve condemnation by a so-called legal sitting of the council.] There is a fascinating conversation recorded here. Jesus indicts that Pilate is being played by the religious leaders (see v33-34). The pinnacle of the conversation is Jesus revealing He is Messiah and King, and Pilate’s concrete thinking, the meaning of life is here, right now, the cold hard steel of the Roman Sword… in his retort, “What is truth.” Then comes the manipulation of the Jews. For Pilate finds Jesus innocent, but the leaders angle to get a zealot terrorist, Barabbas, released instead for Passover.
Pilate, being the pragmatic ruler, knowing the impact of visual effect, has Jesus scourged. This means beaten 39 lashes with the cat & nine tail whip… nine leather whip lashes on a single handle, woven into it pieces-shards of metal… it would whip the prisoner and then skilfully drag the while back across the back to wind up for the next slash. As it was drug, it would rip the flesh, and muscle underneath, leaving gaping shredded wounds across the back and if the prisoner survived, he would often die of the infections and complications of the wounds. But the Roman guards feel the confidence to also beat, mock, humiliate and shame Jesus. They strip him naked, drape a purple robe across him (sign and colour of royalty) and press the crown of thorns into his head. The other authors share how they mocked and beat him in more detail.
Jesus is returned to Pilate and presented to the Sanhedrin (probably thinking this might quell their lust for blood). He returns to have a conversation with Jesus. Very interesting exchange given us. Ever wonder who shared this with John? Who was converted later and gave these details to him? *Another conversation for home one day…
We get the crucifixion, short actually and then the account of Mary Jesus’ mum, her sister, wife of Cleopas (1 of the 2 on the Emmaus road) – Jesus’ aunt, and Mary of Magdala, and John. Mary his mum is commended to be cared for by John, the one closest to Jesus. He was so young. We do not know of Joseph (Jesus’ earthly father) at this point and assume he has died in the years silent in Scripture.
John does not include what he witnessed first hand – the final words of Jesus, save the last sentence, “It is finished.”
He proclaims to us – the fight for our souls is over… we are washed by His blood – no longer guilty.
What took place afterwards. We get brief but detailed account.
Matthew 27.57-61, tells us the same story of Joseph and the body’s preparation, and these mourning women sitting at the tomb – normal cultural habit. Note v62, it gives us a glimpse into Saturday…
Mark 15.42-47 tell us that it was already evening. Sabbath begins Friday at Sunset. We’re told more of Joseph’s status and prominence on the Sanhedrin and why Annas and Caiaphas had the illegal night trial – knowing Joseph was against their plot. It also says He was righteous and waiting for the Kingdom of God, so a Pharisee and not a Sadducee (liberal denying resurrection of eternal life for anyone). Mark tells us of the Centurion’s report to Pilate when he asked if Jesus was already dead. Remember, this was extremely short and normally took so much longer. Mark gave the times of crucifixion & death earlier. We get the abbreviated burial preparation but it is referred to.
Luke 23.50-56 tells us Joseph petitions for and receives Jesus’ body and buries Him, and the women see where, and prepare the spices for treating the body. We’re told here, Joseph is a member of the Sanhedrin and tried to stop this, and he was a Godly man.
John 19.31 & following, we get the details of the Romans breaking legs normally to ensure the person is dead or to speed the death actually as a mercy as the victim would not be able to push up to get a breath, though limited and would die sooner, yet still in pain. But that seeing Jesus is dead, stab him in the side and water separated from the blood (from the lungs) pours out. He was dead, and so as the prophesy said, no bones were broken. [Zechariah 2 for one reference]
John gives us some detail no one does, that Joseph petitioned and got the body – Joseph had to have some influence and wealth that he got audience and favour from Pilate. John tells us though that Nicodemus also participated and the two with 100lbs (over 45kg’s) and they prepared the body for burial, wrapped in stripped cloths… lie a mummy, which included binding the body as one wrapped up body (see Luke 11 referring to Lazarus for 1st century practices). So imagine wrapped up in a roll fashion with 100llbs of spices (in the form of ointments) to preserve the body.
Two important notes: These two men broke in a huge way the rules of Sabbath – touching the dead and doing this work… it wold have taken HOURS well into the late night and Sabbath. Also, as the other texts tell us the women went on the 1st day of the week (Sunday), to prepare the body, that they did not know Joseph and Nicodemus had already done this act of mercy and grace.
Lots of detail and insight here. The authors give us great investigative evidences of this dark but glorious day when Lucifer thought he’s won. We get the drama played our and the anticlimactic but profound care for his body.
We leave this day with the humble, lifeless body, no glory, no sign of victory, no sovereign wisdom or overcoming evident. He’s not recognisable. His flesh is sooooo torn, mangled and dried clotted blood with dirt, gravel and seat smeared in. He’s filthy. The washing alone would have been hours. Every humble vulnerable inch of his body would need thorough cleaning. I had no doubt they cried at the duty, honour and even privilege to give this service to their Rabbi… they did not yet get was about to occur!
As you go now, practice some silence, not just not talking but still inside, not needing to think or entertain, amuse yourself. Allow the quiet. Be with Him in the tomb, dark, cool, spices now filling the air, almost masking the piercing smell of death.
Holy Saturday, also known as Saturday Vigil, when we wait, no more words, no more ministry, no miracles. Today, the silent, briefest day of the week. Saturday vigil is when they hid, they probably had fitful sleep, were afraid the doors would burst open with arrests and summary execution on the spot, ravaging of the women, etc, by the Romans. The Romans were known to cut the proverbial “chicken’s head off” quickly to put down any sniff of insurrection, which was rife in Jerusalem and more so with the crucifixion of the previous day. So let’s look into this awful sad, fearful, mourning, uncomfortable day.
We begin looking at our contextual video –
Our video surfaces some good issues, and questions, for which I’ll save engaging until we’ve looked into the Texts themselves.
Our precious texts – looking into Scripture
Matthew finished “Good” Friday, the day of execution / crucifixion in chapter 28, verses 58-61. Note who secured release of the body, where Jesus was buried, the large stone rolled over it and the women (probably more, but including the three Mary’s).
Matthew gives us five short verses on this Saturday. The select subset of the Sanhedrin gets a meeting with Pilate, and get permission to do a Roman securing of the tomb. Why not their own guards? The argument that the Jews hid Him probably. Pilate’s response reveals that apparently they had a guard of Romans at their disposal already (detailed to their “needs.” What this the cohort (five centuries) who went to arrest Jesus? The last bit of details is “the seal.” This is the seal like letters of old with the cord keeping something closed laid into wax pressed into it (eg a letter) and to read the letter, the wax seal would be broken. The same for this tomb – to get access to the tomb, you would have to break this seal…. Punishable by death. The ordinary detail for this would be sixteen soldiers. If they fail at their duty due to negligence, it would be immediate death. Note this fact after the event unfolds of Jesus’ resurrection.
Mark gives us nothing of Saturday. His “#8 wire pragmatic news to the Romans leaves this out completely. The silent day.
Luke tells us in seven verses of Jesus’ burial, but not the body preparation that John gives us. This is all on Friday. On Saturday’s account, Luke gives us nothing at all.
John having given so much detail in chapter 19 of Joseph and Nicodemus doing the Sabbath breaking loving act of preparing Jesus for burial, says nothing.
So we get only Matthew telling us anything, and not much. So, why is this day noteworthy and why are we taking time to discuss it any further. The short answer for our situation here is that saints and sceptics alike want to know where was Jesus for this day? His death stretches from Friday to Sunday, Friday 3pm approximately until dawn on Sunday (referred to in that time as the first hour). Why stay dead this long? There was enough evidence to note He was actually “dead.” The 100lbs of ointment spices and wrapping Him as they did, the extent of His wounds, the crucifixion, the water-blood separation when stabbed in the side (death knell from this alone) all testify He was dead, dead; real dead. So where did He go? This is a theological quagmire, but I don’t mind getting muddy, so let’s jump in!
The early church maintained, concluded that He descended into hell or hades to preach “to the captives.” Was this “hell” where the fallen angels (some of them presently, all eternally after the judgement and souls of the rebellious against God humans are)? Or was it the place of the dead, think Abraham and the rich man who died and Lazarus was in the bosom of Abraham? There is a lot of metaphorical language there in a very distant culture and language to unpack at another time. Bottom line – we do not know.
The only text is 1 Peter 3.18-20, where Peter writes,
18For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.
After being made alive, He went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— 20 to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.”
The early church concluded this meant that Jesus was alive and on mission to preach either a) to the fallen, thus their indictment for rebellion, both human and angelic, that Jesus had defeated death, death’s victory swallowed in resurrection, as the only just one to merit life after death/judgement, the only One found innocent and not deserving and therefore His death can be the substitutionary payment, penalty for our sins….as the “unblemished Passover Lamb,” and/or b) to those who died in faith (trusting God in the mystery) that God is righteous, their faith counting as worth enough to save them – save them until they were presented the Gospel (good news – truth – whole story) of Jesus, that they might have opportunity to trust and be saved…. Have in mind many New Testament passages here framing their thinking, eg Paul in Romans, under no other name is one saved, or John’s when Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father, but through Me.”
Most scholars today look at this passage and conclude, as our video did that Peter is referring to the proclamation of victory over Lucifer’s rebellion, sealing eternity with God sovereignly as God and Jesus ruling as inseparable in the Trinity and the Father’s right hand.
If He did descend, to where? The original New testament languages, Aramaic and Greek are key to get to the crux of what they meant, by how words were used commonly in other texts. It being the Roman empire, the texts were quickly translated to Latin also. The Greek version of the Apostles’ Creed reads κατελθόντα εἰς τὰ κατώτατα, (“katelthonta eis ta katôtata“) meaning “descended to lower ones,” or you could translate it as “descended to those below.” The Latin version reads “descendit ad inferos,” where “inferos” (not infernos with an “n”) means “those below” like the word “inferior.” So the Latin “inferos” corresponds pretty accurately with the Greek κατώτατα. This would lead us from this evidence – not the entire argument, given, that this was to the place where all people went when they died. Other arguments to pursue were people of the Old Testament going straight to heaven or to some intermediary waiting place until Messiah came and after the resurrection, all could go to heaven. Another tangent for more Ph.D. work by theologians! Important, but beyond our scope here.
The former (Jesus went to “Gehenna,” the place of the dead in Old Testament Hebrew texts) was held by the earliest church, those closest who remember Him and heard all the teaching we do not have recorded in the texts. Luke concludes his Gospel saying this is a mere small portion and that all the books written (event at that time – a whole lot!) could not contain it all. This early church gave us the earliest Creed, the Apostle’s Creed. We have several, the two most noted being the Apostle’s and the Nicene (325AD). Sure, the Apostle’s Creed was edited after – but nothing major and not on this part that states, “He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; He descended to hell. The third day He rose from the dead.” The early authors, forming how the church worshipped and the theology for us, minced no words – this took place on Friday night/Saturday.
My conclusion on this one topic? Simple, I don’t know. I do not like arm chair quarter back theology not built on Scriptural evidence and good argument to rewrite and reinterpret as we are all “people of our time” and those present and immediately following, so much closer to source than us held the descending into Hell itself. Therefore, I tend to stand with the Apostle’s Creed, but I stand softly, not actually being forced into a theological corner…yet!
One related and tangential comment on Jesus going to Gehenna is Isaiah’s chapter 53, verse 10-12. Here Isaiah tells us – in the middle of the description prophesy of what Messiah would experience,
“Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer,
and though the Lord makes His life an offering for sin,
He will see His offspring and prolong His days,
and the will of the Lord will prosper in His hand.
11 After He has suffered,
He will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by His knowledge My righteous Servant will justify many,
and He will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give Him a portion among the great,
and He will divide the spoils with the strong,
because He poured out His life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For He bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.”
This lends itself to the argument of descending for two reasons. First, God’s wrath, including judgment of condemnation is laid upon Messiah – for us. This includes going “to hell” or judgement and penalty of it. Hence the comment in verse It unpacks why and what Jesus suffers for us in verse 12, “was numbered with the transgressors.” Second it discusses Jesus’ resurrection, and return from this judgement and victory. Argument can be made that this is the ontological victory over death – the court trial victory of acquittal and substitutionary atonement for us, and both conclusions requires assumptions made for the conclusion. I lean, not concluded, that ontological theological truths in Scripture tend to worked out in actions, real events and places. That is only a best guess conclusion though.
A consideration of why the tomb, an expensive, wealthy man’s tomb (righteous man though as we learned yesterday)? Isaiah’s prophesy, chapter 53 v9 is our key. Chapter 52 and 53 give us such an accurate detailed insight into the experience of Jesus in His arrest, trial, treatment and death – before crucifixion was invented (by the Babylonians) that one cannot ignore the weight of these texts written hundreds of years before the events of this week. It states, “He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death, though He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth.”
The tomb’s, around Jerusalem, were carved into rock slopes, many of which exist today and two are held as the actual tomb. The certainty was lost in the Islamic hold on Jerusalem for several centuries and into the modern age until after WWII. This would be labour intensive and require a lot of money. We’re told by multiple authors that It was Joseph’s fresh never used tomb – which agrees with the earlier prophesy. Jesus, being the Rabbi He was in human form, was poor, without funds and even generous giving would find it difficult to afford such a tomb without the righteous God fearing Joseph as benefactor. Ordinary criminals (guilty of murder ordinarily – but this was a political execution) were dumped into shallow graves, often, into an open mass grave poorly covered very near, adjacent to the execution place on Golgotha (hill of the skull, which you can see today in its profile). Having a family, he would have been allowed to be buried, but it would be a poorly marked dug hole, not the ornate tomb. Also of note, normally, the bodies would be left to hang there until they rotted a bit – more humiliation and scare tactic to keep the people in line – before being taken down. But, being Passover and Sabbath they sped up the death process by the Roman’s breaking their legs. This was common practice. This is why the story of seeing he was already prematurely dead, that they stabbed Jesus’ side.
All of this was the day after Passover, the Sabbath on this particular year. Remember our Easter is tied to Passover and this is lunar schedule driven. Yet another topic for another day, but it’s all in the Old Testament. So the day moves. This is why Ash Wednesday (& Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras) moves, and why Easter moves, which occurred at Passover. So, on the Sabbath, nothing would occur. As Jews, they would have followed the day of rest rules, which were extensive. The women do not yet know Joseph and Nicodemus (very different societal places) have already done the burial rites on Jesus, and are planning, as the texts tell us, to do the rite the next day. To perform this task and to mourn is why the women went so early the next day. They were already late in habit of preparing His body (again not knowing it was done).
While we know the poor followers and the common wealthy followers were in hiding, as well as overwhelming grief – thinking all they had hoped for, the coming of Messiah, Jesus as Messiah, was shattered when He actually died, we need to consider Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, both members of the Sanhedrin seventy. They were known to have defended and promoted His cause and giving Him full hearing in light of Scripture. They would have a mark on their lives as well. We are given nothing of their lives from this event forward. Did they run? Were they now going to spend the remainder of their lives hiding, poor, stripped of office? Another great conversation when we get home!
Practical Implications and worship
What do we do with today, that while so little is given, do with the wider theological issues to wrestle? The church traditionally and until most recent decades universally practiced a vigil of prayer, reflection, quiet worship and humble contrition. This vigil means to be alert, awake, keep watch. To stand vigil is to guard. The church would practice this with at least a three-hour time of prayer and worship, proclamations of Scripture, etc. Beyond this, people would and do come for periods of prayer and silent presence in the church – with Christ. Much of the liturgical church (Anglican, Catholic and Orthodox traditions) yet practice this. In the west, smaller percentages do more than the three hours, with many not going a full three hours. Many have given up this habit all together.
I do urge that we mark, keep some form of vigil where we are present to, awake and reflecting upon the weight and truth of the situation, to consider the experience of those early saints that day. This unique year of Covid-19 isolation, I believe we get just a hint of the isolation they felt – no knowing tomorrow or even what today holds, no social media or communication technology, no funds to sustain themselves, no return to normal afterwards. We also get a touch of insight of the persecuted church, the saints who cannot gather, rarely if ever, if ever at all, can gather as a church or whole church, some never having met their pastor even! It is good for us. To keep vigil this year is never more profound or appropriate.
So sit in this silence, this unknown, this loss, this cost, this reality and even the unknown unsure future, which we briefly taste in a limited way. It’s not abstract conjecture for us anymore. We experience it just a tiny bit…. But, Sunday is coming and we do not sit in the unknown. For when we awake tomorrow, Jesus again will and can be celebrated as His present and eternal state – Risen indeed!
Χριστὸς ἀνέστη // Christ is risen!
Ἀληθῶς ἀνέστη. //. He is risen indeed!
He is risen! ~ this is the fact, the announcement running from the tomb! [Luke 24.35}
This is the key and difference, this is the fulfilment of everything – all that is prophesied over and across Scripture is the announcement of the story of the coming Messiah, from Genesis three after the fall God’s words were that He will strike Your heal, but you will crush His head and the metanarrative slowly unfolds through God’s people… all pointing to this day, this Great Day! No work, nothing at all deserving in any of us, no favour of pedigree, blood, works, piety, nothing earns or even is worthy of notice. This is our liturgy. We are not worthy – but also the message that we are not worthless but are of great worth, because He – God – The Son of God would die for us!
But it is just that, another martyr and histories pages are filled with them, many notable ones, even Christian ones, But none rise from the dead, none was sinless, none the Son of God – God Himself… “I and the Father are one!” This is the key… Jesus is God and God died extinguishing the wrath of God (Isaiah 53.10-12) against sin and then rising form the dead.
This was the only message, the testifying (testimony) of the witnesses. Surely the twelve, but wider – 120… then 3000 plus, and they all changed their lives giving witness to this one event… Jesus was risen from the grace and has proven He is Messiah, the anointed/chosen one, our salvation, our Lord. Nothing else – the rest of all the arguments in our dogmas, our in-fighting and dividing, creating amputation and divorce within God’s church, His bride matters…. This is what we keep our eyes on, and keep all else second to this one truth. This is the only issue for which to die! Long or short creation, rapture or not, immerse or sprinkle, when is life conceived – all though very important, are a distant shadow to this – this is what defines the Christian, accepting and believing, by definition therefore changing how one lives, is the key.
This is the new exodus, the new baptism, the new life… the old covenant of law to establish our lost state and therefore establish the new covenant of trust, hope and relationship when God puts His Spirit in us and gives us hearts of flesh!
“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” ~ Ezekiel 36.26
For this, there is life – for this I have peace, I trust, I live, I purpose myself!
Let us look at our video for today:
A few key points from the video to anchor in our minds, and hearts:
- Being people of their time, they (Jews) did not consider women’s testimony completely equal or legitimate. [Wrong, I know and God’s New Testament establishes this!] If this was a fabricated story, the conspirators would have used men, even Romans as pagans to establish the historiosity!
- The events this week are not a surprise, but prophesied (hundreds of them!) and known by Jesus ahead of time (in the Gospel story this week) and explained by Jesus on the road to Emmaus. The crucifision & resurrection are not plan “B” but God’s plan of redemption from the beginning.
We turn to our Scripture texts:
Matthew picks up in his very last chapter with the resurrection! [28.1-15] He tells us that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (Wife of Cleopas of Emmaus, one of the 2 on the road the evening of this very day) go to the tomb. [This would be for two reasons. Mourning & body preparation, but as they knew the Roman guards were there, they would know they would never be allowed to break the seal on it. Best estimation is that word from Nicodemus and Joseph was sent to ease their anxiety over caring for Jesus’ body to these dear ones.].
Matthew gives us the account of a 2nd earthquake (sounds familiar for us here in Christchurch!) and with it an angel (One assumes such a task would go to one of the archangels, e.g. Gabriel or Michael maybe?). Interesting and a touch of post story humour including the detail that the angel sat on the stone! Angels, able to visit in guise of an ordinary human (Hebrews 13.2) or in their full brilliance having left God’s full presence, as it is recorded here, were terrifying and through Scripture, it terrifies people to the extreme of being literally frozen and lying on the ground petrified, as we say! Matthew tells us what it did to the Roman guards. Interesting the angel does not slay these pagans, participants and representatives of the very murderous empire and those who killed God’s Son.
Matthew gives us a conversation already begun, “The angel answered…”. He announces Jesus is risen and invites them into the tomb to see He is gone. He sends them on their way with orders to announce it to the others and that Jesus will meet them in Galilee. They departed with haste, but Jesus surprises them along the way and He sends them to bring the news and to get everyone to the Seat of Galilee. Interesting note – Jesus ended His ministry where He began it! That must be a special place for Him.
Matthew closes the report of this day with the Sanhedrin’s subset who orchestrated the murder of Jesus plotting with the guards, further supporting a Roman contingent placed at their personal disposal. Further this supports the allied collaboration with the Romans. Further supporting that this subset were Sadducees and the meaning of life being here, for they rejected the idea of resurrection. The remainder of Matthew’s story
Mark’s account continues at chapter 16v1-14. He shares the same story in that the two Mary’s (Magdalene and the “other” Mary, wife of Cleopas, mother of James & John, Emmaus Road…) go to the garden. [Note – James and John are from Bethsaida, North end of Galilee. Yet they now live, or have relatives in Emmaus, 6-7 miles NW of Jerusalem’s walls. Did they move for Jesus’ ministry? Are they there only for the pilgrimage of Passover?]
Mark eludes that they were not just going to mourn, but to prepare the body, so were they in the dark about Joseph’s and Nicodemus’ act on the evening of His death? Were they like most mums, not trusting they did it right? Were they simply “needing” to do this to add their act of love? They had not fully hatched their plan, had not brought any of the guys to help with the brute force needed (about 2m diameter stone!). According to Mark, did they not know that early yesterday a Roman seal and guard had been installed?
Mark only gives us the conversation from inside the tomb? Is this his #8 wire messaging to the Romans, or only the information He could gather decades later? Mark recounts the announcement and the command to go tell the disciples, but he marks the prefect, Peter, and continues with the directives to meet Him in Galilee – for them to go “home.” [Note: Many people want to surmise that they went home because they had given up home, because they were afraid, yet the authors clearly give us that this was the command… to go meet Him there, not to mention, Jesus, like a loving family member could simply not wait and showed up early with them in Jerusalem, before Galilee. He could have said that when He saw them in Jerusalem, but the angels announces it and Jesus shows up anyway! Can you not catch something about God, about Jesus… how even He loves us so much, that He gets so excited and extravagantly adores us?!]
Mark concludes with a few key insights to note. He comments that they women were blown away – afraid, astonished, obviously not full grasping the situation. It accounts the two of them, but also that Mary Magdalene had been exorcised by Jesus and that she carries in the memory of the witnesses to these events as the messenger, the first evangelist! Mark also tells us they did not believe her, even when the two from Emmaus report the same late that night, during a dinner – even the eleven did not believe. [Note: Who did not believe. We know that the circle of people was larger than the eleven, so men and women did not. We beat them up in so many sermons for their lack of trusting. Yet, we do not trust God for much, much smaller realities, even that God is working in and through us to love those to whom we’re sent in our seemingly insignificant lives – we are Mary Magdalene’s sent to proclaim what no one else is more qualified to share with our loved ones. So maybe we can give them some grace, for even here, their love and trust is wider than ours.] The eleven get beat up, and yes they were closest, they saw it all and should believe… but it is so extraordinary isn’t it. How often have they, us, seen people raised from the dead. Yes, even they saw it – a few times (never before Jesus came along) but only when Jesus Himself did it… Now, he’s dead… who would raise Him? He raises Himself? Far fetched – they saw his mutilated tortured body, shredded, bled out, pierced and hung on a tree. But He shows up…. Mark doesn’t recount other than it was during the evening meal, probably late after everyone else had settled and the fear of Roman soldiers bursting in subsided at least for tonight.
Luke as is not a surprise, gives us more detail in his recount. Luke’s begins at chapter 24v1-49. Luke’s picks up inside the tomb, as Mark did, and shares the same story, but reveals there are two angels there, dazzling in appearance. We’re told they are petrified, humbling themselves faces to the ground. Luke gives us more of the story of the conversation, picking up with the Angels’ question, “Who do you seek the Living One among the dead? He is not here. He is risen. Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee?” They continue to unpack the event of how Jesus said the plan, death and resurrection… the women remember the event, lost in the nightmare of the past three days. We get that the women went to tell the others, without the commission to do so.
An insight though the others have not included, there were other women with them! It was not JUST the two… but a group of them, further unpacking that this entourage was bigger than the 12…. All of them, led by Magdala, told them, but were not believed. This further establishes the sociological historical support that this is accurate, for in conspiring the story, they would not have written it as told by women, as you know in that time, in such a patriarchal society, they were men of their time, and did not know of the 21st century’s egalitarian freedoms, nor was it a concern to even imagine. They return and told it to the eleven, “and all the rest” – all of the company of believers of Jesus.
Luke gives us more – that Peter (remember – above – Mark’s words to especially tell Peter) runs ahead to the tomb to see it himself. We’re only given that Peter went, but hold on for John’s account. Peter obviously shared with Luke that he had gone in, saw all the mummifying cloths there with no body, and that Peter went home marvelling. I can’t wait to ask Peter what was goind through his mind and if he had any concept of what would be clear shortly.
Luke gives us the beautiful story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. We’re told only “two of them” and miss the clues through this week of the wider group of men and women,. Funny how our socialised pre-taught and digested teaching – and from a male oriented perspective of previous days misses all the clues of men and women. We are pre-conditioned that only guys were disciples and yet the Scripture defies this!
Luke tells us one of them is Cleopas (husband of Mary (also known as Zebedee). Not a surprise that Luke only names him, and not a surprise that he would have been the one to respond. Remember, they are afraid! They are leaving the city in the late afternoon, the day after Sabbath and the day the pilgrims returning home, now turning to the business and farm and family who had not come. AND not a surprise that these two, if they still live in Galilee, or are going home, that they are afraid. Had they surveyed the city gates and seen that the Romans were not urgently searching for the followers of Jesus and did not have a list of names to arrest them. How many times in history has this story been told, Japan, China, Muslim nations, Nazi’s, Communists in Russia, and Central America? They got out and were getting away tonight, not waiting for a scourging to be released. They have the infamous exchange, dinner and the sudden recognition in how He broke the bread to whom they ate! Suddenly they realise how when He unpacked the Scriptures, beginning with Moses (the law) that their hearts burned within them, when suddenly the reality and truth of the Word was making sense! Again, we’re often hard on them… but they saw the mutilated body. He was dead, dead. In the fatigue of fear being on constant guard, vigil, and grieving, they would not be themselves. Yet, we do not know in what guise Jesus presented Himself that they did not understand, but they did – the Spirit gave them the “eyes to see” when in His words and mannerisms of giving thanks and breaking the bread, they suddenly were startled awake to the reality that it is Jesus! They return and give report to the others.
Luke gives us the details that as they were telling, and as it seems, not being believed (would I have believed them, even if the women had come and told us, and now these two?), that Jesus appears scaring them and they think they are seeing a ghost! The rest of this story, v36-49 specifically and emphatically tells how He ate, He showed them his pierced body and He unpacks that this is the plan all along and this is evidenced in the prophesies of the Old Testament. [Note: Jesus repeatedly prophesied and then testified using the Scripture text as He explained Himself as the fulfilment of the Prophesies, as the one who was the Messiah and that it was not plan B. He revealed what was there all along, but they did not see! Maybe we should study the texts more “woke” to the reality that Jesus is the Rabbi of the Old Testament revealed and become more educated to how everything that occurred comes from God’s metanarrative of God’s predetermined plan. Here in this room, wherever they are (same upper room? Would make sense) He gives the foretaste of the Great Commission given on the shore of Galilee, that they would proclaim forgiveness of sin through the death and resurrection of Jesus to everyone, not just Jews, “to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem” city of peace. Now the ancient euphemism of Jerusalem (jeru = peace) makes sense – for it is the city of Messiah! Jesus tells them He is sending them and that He is sending the Spirit, but it’s not unpacked how or when, just yet.
John’s story for the remainder of his biography is chapters 20 and 21. Chapter 20 is reserved for this day. As is not a surprise, the closest one, and youngest gives us an entire chapter. John summarises the details of the women at the tomb, and only names Mary Magdala and that she ran to tell Peter and John (the one who Jesus loves). He shares the details that Mary still did not get it and somehow reported that they’ve taken Jesus’ body. John tells us the two of them (were they the only ones, as so often the story only names the significant players?) run to the tomb, and that John outran Peter. They are both in the prime of life (15/16 & 19) but they get there and that though John got there, he pauses (afraid of seeing these angels Mary described) and John stoops to look in – tells us something unique about this tomb… the opening was lower/shorter than a young man’s height… he sees the linens, but when Peter arrives, being the prefect, he dares and goes in… John gives us interesting detail that does not fit with a fabrication, that the other linens are lying there, in what state we do not know – had Jesus “vanished” or rose through the mummy type linens and they lay there as he had been in them, or were they folded we don’t know – but John tells us specifically the linen that had been on his head were folded and separate from the rest. How did he recognise head linens folded up? What gave that away? They all would be stained with dried blood and even bits of his flesh, skin, hair…. Not the pretty sparkling white linens we portray in enactments.
John gives that when he saw these linens, he believed. John continues, that they had yet to put all the Old Testament Scripture and the words Jesus Himself had told them together and that they went back to the place where they were staying,.
Yet, unique to this attentive observant one, who so loved Jesus, he gives us and turns the spotlight away from himself to another – back to the women. Jon reveals that after they left, that they get the message of the angels. It began with a question, “Why are you weeping? Ah ha! This brings the four texts together. This unpacks what appeared a contradiction. Obvious now in the final Gospel, we get the order of events… they went to the tomb the first time, found it empty, and ran to tell the others…. John’s words make sense in that they did not know who (yet) had taken his body! BUT then after the young guys went home, the angels show up in the encounter and unpack it for them!
John gives us another special insight… the first appearance of Jesus! Jesus not recognised, forget if she was crying, if Jesus masked his appearance, it’s irrelevant – she did not recognise Him at first…. She thinks it’s the gardener, the way He says her name! Joy, reunion! Interesting unique note from Mary naturally shared later with John, that Jesus said to not cling to Him because He’s not yet ascended to the Father…. So He’s just arisen! Why not cling to Him? Lots of theological ink and pages written on this, often with way to much “sure of themselves in their own estimations for my comfort!” We don’t know and can only gestate about why…. But it does harken to the conversation yesterday about where Jesus was from Friday 3pm until Sunday 6am. Has He gone to the Father and if He had would He have said this? Or had He been literally preaching good news in Gehenna (the place of the dead?). Magdala is noted as reporting to the others, by John.
Similar account of His appearing that evening to the others is given, with a few other quotes and words and some of the others’ reports not included here, are given. John includes more about the Holy Spirit coming, and forgiving sins and the authority they’ll now wield – remember their young arrogance fighting over who would have a better title and seat in the Kingdom before? They don’t grab such with human entitlement now. [Note: People often stumble because the reports of the events of that night are not word for word exact, so people surmise they guessed or could not remember. I challenge this. If we all were in attendance at some significant events, we’d all later report what stood out and impacted us so significantly and it would not be the same, but if recorded we could reconstruct more/most of what occurred and was said in what order.]
John’s final detail is that of Thomas. Thomas was not present when Jesus arrived from “thin air” as we say. Again, our pre-digested grip on Scripture, given us by former preachers, tells us what a dunce Thomas was, and we nicknamed him, “Doubting Thomas.” This is so not fair! All the fear, grief, and fatigue they have had is also upon Thomas. Though we have no idea where he’s been, it’s not suspect as there is no mention of it being non-ordinary. Thomas’ response is just exactly what ours would be – believing just because your brothers and sisters say so in this event, “Rising from the dead, seriously?”, is exactly what we’d say. BUT Jesus appears again, same night, to assure and give Thomas peace, not beat him up. Jesus lets him explore the reassurance he needed. He was obvious pragmatic and not given to wild faith without evidence. I think of our engineer, science types in our own church – Thomas is your patron saint! Jesus states that [in the future] saints who trust in Him without having the evidences will be blessed, favoured. Thus, closes the story with the testimony that Jesus did a whole lot more than he’s recorded in this book. “What all did He do?” Is my question. How long was He with them? Healed? Evidence of His identity, revelation of His glory? He told Mary to not embrace Him yet, because He not ascended to the Father, but He told Thomas to touch His body… so during the day we call Easter, from the 1st hour until the 15th, 16th hour, was He home, welcomed and reunited with the Father, and now is back? Did He go home, reconcile the separation with His dad, get a hug and hurry back to watch and be with them before they knew He was with them? Amazing story! But John tells us He’s given us what we need to understand and believe/trust Jesus and therefore have eternal life.
What a day! The women to the tomb (#?) they leave thinking His body was taken. Peter and John run and see for themselves, leaving, at least John believes, the first complete convert? (not a surprise actually!). The women stay at the tomb after the guys leave, they engage angels, then Jesus. They report it, and the rest do not believe, and John obviously, still coming to grips says nothing. The events along the road to Emmaus occur…. They give report, while the others ate, and poof, Jesus appears again (3rd time). They believe, and Jesus departs, telling them to go to Galilee and wait there and that He’ll see them there. Thomas gets back, and Jesus shows up to comfort and reassure him. [Note: where did Thomas go in coming years?]. and He departs, having done a lot of signs (miracles for unknown end). This is the day to which men and women in good state of mind, changed everything – changed their lives, gave all of themselves, to follow the Rabbi in new ways, making their purpose to follow and give simple testimony to what they’d seen, witnessed and experienced. Many of them, 10 of the original 11 (minus the 12th, Judas the betrayer), died as martyrs and many of the others (wider than the 11) also. It is not long at all before the great persecution, led by pre-convert Paul breaks out… only fifty days… yet they never recant. Others join and hold to the same conviction of mind and heart. They’re not unbalanced, not crazy, not delusional, not simpletons, not crazy eccentric zealots, and never had been – but through history, saints have dared to embrace THIS ONE DAY and were willing to die for it and to live for it – the daily sacrifice to deny a comfortable more secure life to live for Him… Hence, Paul’s words that we are living sacrifices (Romans 12.1-3).
Χριστὸς ἀνέστη // Christ is risen!
Ἀληθῶς ἀνέστη. //. He is risen indeed!
Today is the last entry to this series for Holy Week.
We’re stretching it to day nine, Palm Sunday until today…
We’ve now entered the season of Eastertide, that forty-day period from the resurrection until Christ ascends [Ascension Day, a Thursday], followed by the imparting of the Holy Spirit to every believer in Christ [Pentecost, a Sunday].
Jesus appears multiple times, we know we do not each appearance. Knowing the Jesus of this ancient book, He came equipping the disciples, now the apostles for the remainder of their earthly days for the mission they have inherited. Yet, the Jesus I see in the Scriptures relationally would soak up every moment He could with them until He went, while preparing them for the time when He would not be with them.
But let’s be honest, while Easter is the most important day – over and above everything else combined which we note in our calendar and celebrate in our faith, for it all leads and is a supporter actor/actress to this day – when God’s Son, God Himself-the 2d person of the Trinity, when salvation was secured by the victory over death (sin’s judgment penalty).
While we give this lip service to being the biggest day, let’s be gut honest, it’s not. Christmas is far bigger! Yes, we, as Anglicans, with our Orthodox (all flavours of; Russian, Eastern, etc), Catholic (all flavours of; Roman, Eastern, etc, Coptic brothers and sisters, do Holy Week pretty well… in the weeks leading up we tend to focus on texts that prepare us for Easter… We do the day by day walk of the Passion (suffering) week well, from Palm Sunday to Maundy Thursday, Friday and even some note Vigil Saturday, and of course Easter, well! But come Easter Monday, we return to business as normal. Yep, the “colours” of the church remain white, begun Easter Monday, but that’s it… Easter is done and dusted.
But Christmas, also very significant, is given at least forty days to be honest! We’ve got the Advent month, followed by the twelve days of Christmas and then the events that are associated with His birth – dedication, presentation, running to Egypt, etc. We go whole out – decorations, parties, dinners, travel, special services; lessons and carols, community carols, associated Christmas services for families, midnight Mass, Christmas Day… We give presents, and have such a celebratory nature about our demeanour for the day.
Why is this? Easter, well, it’s sad.. just not as much fun and we like fun. No, Easter is a dark drama with death, suffering, our guilt and shame openly addressed and of course relieved, thank God! Yet, it’s just not as fun as the birth of the baby Jesus… never mind that the prophetic proclamations of His birth ALL point to Easter – “behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
Our Eastern brethren though… those mentioned above, well, they know how to do Easter! Their cultural life in society is still centred on this season. Yes, we’re more secular in western societies, enlightened we like to say – but how damned sad! Four experience, our habits (liturgy of life) forms how we value and think about anything, everything. Because we culturally do not centre our lives around Easter, we make little of it mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Yes, the intellectual ascent for the day is there, the heart, well, it’s in the storage larder. Our Eastern family – makes HUGE of it! They have feasts, give gifts, have a series of gathered worship expressions and the whole of their faith is centred around this… Hence baptism means more, confirmation means more. Living our life here means more – we have more purpose!
It’s time, it is absolutely imperative that we, the saints, our church, must become more “woke” to the reality of our faith and recentre our lives from our distracted consumer affluenza that overtaken our society and culture, our western and Kiwi church. It is time that St Christopher’s retake it’s place and charism, our call to lead and be the people Christ calls us to be and our influence on the wider church in our city – being passionately in love with Jesus – the Risen Christ!
For the Texts, we close the four Gospel biographical books. We get very short verses, but the intent of the Bible is to automatically lead to the “Acts of the Apostles.” This gives us the “second season” if we use TV drama language.
Matthew has six verses to close his story. Chapter 28, v16 to the end is in Galilee, on the mountain he told them to gather around. We do not get a lot, but I suspect that the mountain is the one, probably the same place where we get the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration (Matthew 17.1-8) and the presence of Elijah and Moses with Him. Ever wonder why? Jesus and Matthew continued to evidence Jesus’ identity with the prophetic words of the Old Testament. Through Scripture geographic locations are very important, and this is the only “mountain” noted in the texts and in Jesus’ departing message, the place it would occur.
Matthew’s interesting words are in v17, where he admits “but some were doubtful.” Certainly, this would make sense, as the people from the disciple’s/apostle’s home towns would go with them, and they have not been present or received ongoing news of this event, so naturally, it sounds as far fetched as if we were given the same reports today of someone, even Godly leaders, rising from the dead.
Matthew closes with Jesus’ words – the “Great Commission” as it’s known, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Everything the church has done and been historically has been around this mission – the church militant (all members of the church being engaged in the spiritual war to bring Jesus’ Kingdom). In recent decades, the church has become attractional and internally focused, and as said above, our experience forms our understanding and our perception of ourselves and our purpose. We have come to commonly perceive the church to be making us “comfortable, warm and safe” in a world gone nuts. It does – but that’s not its purpose and come to church militant versus church nurturing, the former must reign prime over the latter. Yet, that has not been the case. There will be readers who will be unsettled at my words. Make no mistake – the church is a source of comfort and encouragement and warm safety – but we are not here in our short days to be comfortable. Ships are made for the sea – everything in their design is for the open reckless seas, not for parking in a harbour, or they’d be buildings on a quay… not ships with propellers and shaped to cut the seas. Hence, the church must shape itself for mission and the Kingdom. This is the message through the book of Acts.
So, let us celebrate and make a really big deal about Eastertide – we in this season end our prayers with not just “|Amen,” but “Amen. Alleluia!” Let us message and recognise how “following our Rabbi” implies lives on mission in everything we do, every relationship we have and our worship and listening ear with Jesus.
Mark gives us six verses (16.15-20). Mark does not unpack the Easter night when Jesus appeared to them, but fuses the Eastertide jumping to the “Great Commission.” His words here contain reference to salvation and judgement/condemnation. He comments on the mission that they went and preached Jesus to the known world. A note here. In Textural criticism, theologians do tell us that v9-20 are missing from “some” of the oldest manuscripts we have. As it is present in some of the texts, we can only surmise why some have and some do not, so it is included.
Luke does not give us the trip up to Galilee, but only the appearances in Jerusalem. He shares that ending their season in Jerusalem, they accompany Him out to Bethany – how appropriate, back to the home of His friends who so supported and hosted Him, where he left them (four verses, 21.50-53), and they returned to the city rejoicing and continually met in the Temple. Interesting they continued there, meeting and the fear of being arrested dissipated and killed themselves gone. Very interesting increase with our apostolic leaders.
Now we finally come to John! John gives us the most detail, beautiful personal relational insights, as one would expect from him! John gives us an entire chapter, twenty-five verses! It is broken down to the shore of the sea of Galilee, re-establishing and re-commissioning of Peter, and prophetic real words for the future.
John 21.1-11 – John gives us some fine details of what occurs and who was there. John names the seven disciples present. Question, did some stay in Jerusalem to lead the saints there (see notes above regarding Luke? Did Jesus tell some to remain in Jerusalem? Matthew? Judas the former zealot (Not the betrayer)? Lazarus, Mary and Martha? Mary Magdala? Mary and Cleopas? Another great dinner conversation!
John unpacks them fishing at dawn and Peter, soooo shamed and humiliated at his own failure over his denials. Peter first recognises who is on the beach… they are about 100m away. He jumps in, swims/wades to shore to meet Christ. Question: what were those first words? I am sure they are comforting, but the following reveals he’s not yet reconciled within himself. Bottom line, pretty easy to see Peter had not forgiven himself and feels disqualified. After they get to shore, they eat the meal He has prepared for them.
After breakfast (v15ff) Jesus says some confronting words, we expect in front of the others, so they know Peter is yet their prefect leader. The three very similar questions and Peter’s answers, despondent because Jesus keeps asking him. Yet, having led and reconciled people before the repeated questions are for the one answering, for it to sink in… Jesus’ response each time is to pastor and lead for Him.
From v18ff we see somewhere in this time, Jesus and Peter took a walk. I can totally see this! Jesus initiating “Hey, let’s take a stroll down the beach, or up the hill. At v20 Peter notices that the youngest, John, is following. Were they all on the walk, and spread out. Is it an hour later, 10 minutes later? But Jesus individualises that Peter’s journey is between him and Jesus – and each person’s experience is different. A good lesson for us and our own lives.
He closes his biography/Gospel is in v24 & v25. John testifies that he is being truthful and exact in what he has shared. He comments that it is merely a small representation – as it would be impossible to write it all down for us. We close with more questions. When we’re finally home, the inquisitive dinners we might have to hear the story beyond what was written for us.
So, as we enter Eastertide, may we reflect and consider, especially in the latter part of our Level IV (10 days?) days, who are we now? Let us walk with the Apostles in “the Acts of the Apostles” to get how our journey now continues… Who are we as church militant knowing and having walked these days following the Rabbi in His last week? Who are we because He is risen and we are His people here, in 2020, in Covid-19 and in the coming weeks and months? And who are we as we “return to normal life?” What will we leave behind and shed as individuals and life groups? As ministries? And, how will be the same and be different as a church? We cannot undo our experience and it would be a shame, if we returned to business as normal, pretending we’re not changed. No, in these last ten days or so, let us reflect well – especially as our frustration and anxiety and eagerness to get from under these restrictions grows, may we allow these to forge our reflection time and then, may we enter our post C-19 lives with a renewed vigour and joy of reunion and reformed, recharged, re-invigorated, re-focused life as His church, sent to “make disciples” of all the world, of all we know, and may we bring joy to our community in the life we invite them to enter.