This Good Friday, we invite you to join our prayer stations walk through St David’s Uniting Church & St Catherine’s between 12 noon and 3 pm. Phil will also be leading a reflective service which takes us through the ‘seven last words’ of Jesus at 2 pm at Castle Square URC. Finally, those who want to mark Jesus’ death in a less traditional way are invited to come to ‘Jesus Wake’ – at The Otley Arms, Treforest – 7-8 pm. Be prepared to tell your favourite story about our deceased friend and raise a toast or two.
For those who would like to read a more traditional Good Friday reflection – the below is given by Revd Dr John Bradbury, General Secretary of the United Reformed Church
Reading St Luke 23: 13-25 – He has done nothing to deserve death.
Luke is deeply aware of the context in which his story unfolds. It is a context of Empire. Of high politics, and high religion. We see Jesus shipped from pillar to post and back again. He starts with the Assembly of the Elders, seemingly the Assembly of the chief priests and the scribes – the religious authorities. They are looking for a reason to get him out of the way. For he was stirring up the people. Perhaps they thought that he was going to take away their authority – for he was one who seemed to teach as if with some kind of naturally endowed authority. They are looking to trick him. “Are you the Son of God?”, they ask. “You say that I am”, he replies.
From here he is shipped to Pilate – the chief official of the Roman Empire, the occupying force of the region. A brutal empire – that will brook no opposition to its rule. With deep double standards – justice for its own citizens in a legal system that still influences our own, but for those not Roman citizens, life could be brutal.
The accusation of treason is so easy to bandy about, is it not? We hear it fairly regularly in our own troubled political times. “We found this man perverting our nation”, the Council protest to the representative of the occupying forces. Forbidding the paying of taxes to the emperor, even. But Pilate has some sense of justice within him, clearly. He’s not willing quite that quickly to take all of this at face value – ‘I find no basis for an accusation’, he says. Where upon the Council turn to that other thought, that sounds so familiar to our ears all these thousands of years later – the power of the crowd and popular opinion. ‘He stirs up the people’ – they claim. And the people must not be stirred up – heaven only knows what ideas might get into them.
So on again in this game of pillar to post – to Herod this time, the Israelite King, puppet, seemingly, of the Romans – but a sop to some kind of Israelite independence. Herod is glad to meet this character he’s heard so much about. He sets about questioning Jesus. Not that Jesus has a lot to say for himself. Unlike the scribes and the chief priests, who stand there, vehemently accusing him.
Herod clearly was not quite sure what to do. He mocked and treated him with contempt – he was the only true king around here. And a fake kingly robe is placed upon Jesus, as he’s sent back to Pilate.
Pilate can find nothing wrong. Herod can find nothing wrong. This man is innocent of the charges brought against him? So how does he end up getting convicted? It’s a heady and toxic mix. Political and religious leaders whipping up the enthusiasm of the crowd, bandying around charges of treason. A political leadership weak, and perhaps a little uncertain of itself. Wanting, the quiet life more than justice. And then we have the crowd. Popular Opinion. ‘The Will of the People’, to use the more contemporary turn of phrase. And it is the will of the people, regardless of the evidence, regardless of the rights or wrongs of the case, regardless of justice or truth – they just want their pound of flesh. ‘Crucify him’. They shout. ‘Crucify him’. And Pilate gave in. Weak leaders often do. His standing amongst the crowd being more important than truth or justice. And so the crowd got it’s way. The sentence was passed.
And so it is, that it is in the interplay of worldly politics and religious fervour, that Jesus is condemned. Untruths whip up the people, and the will of the people must be done. And so it is. Jesus is condemned by powers that be very much like our own powers that be today. By crowds, people, in fact, very much like us.
Loving God, we give you thanks and praise that Jesus was like us in every way, but without sin. That he put himself in the place of a sinner, condemned as a criminal, that we might be freed from sin and death. We pray for those who administer justice and who wield power. Grant them wisdom and insight. May they resist the voices of popular opinion and seek only the true and the good. May they be upheld by your Spirit, that they might exercise servant leadership, like that of Christ. We pray for those falsely accused and imprisoned, and we pray for those who seek justice on their behalf. Grant patience, perseverance and hope.
Reading St Luke 23: 26-43 – Today you will be with me in paradise.
Amidst the great political actors, Luke’s story is also full of little, ordinary folk. Here we have Simon of Cyrene. We know nothing of him, except that he was forced to carry this cross for Jesus. It is the kind of thing that can happen in occupied empires – being randomly accosted to assist the occupying forces – even in execution. What did this Simon know of Jesus? Who knows. What did he think of this gruesome role he was given – a hand in an execution? Who knows. It tells us something about the state of Jesus, however. This is a weak man, after being dragged from pillar to post, and beaten and flogged. Mercy was not in the Roman disposition – or seemingly that of the religious leaders.
Even one of the criminals on the cross joins in with the taunting and the humiliation. “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us”. It is interesting that the Messiah was supposed to ‘save himself’ – there might be that strand of a sense of a military saviour who would liberate the people running through scripture, but there are other strands too. That of the suffering servant, who is humbled, and suffers for the sake of the people. But that, seemingly, was not the kind of Messiah that the people wanted. They wanted someone a little more worldly in their Kingship. What they got, was a king who moved from a donkey to a cross.
But yet there is a counterpoint to all of this. Another of those bit-parts in this story. The other criminal on his cross. This one speaks out for Jesus. This one recognises his own guilt. He deserves to be on his cross – as much as anyone can ever deserve to be on cross, I suppose. But he recognises that ‘This man has done nothing wrong’ – indicating to Jesus. Then that remarkable request, of a criminal in the midst of the sentence of death, the chaotic baying crowds below: “Jesus, remember me when you come into you Kingdom”. To which he get’s the most remarkable of responses: ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise’. The innocent one to whom no mercy is shown, in his final moments, shows mercy to the guilty one next to him. Such is God’s way with the world. Such is God’s way with us.
Loving God, we give you thanks for the people who wander into our lives only briefly, but who make a real difference. Those who have helped us bear our crosses. Those who have seen who we really are. We give you thanks for the mercy of Christ – who offers us a place in paradise with him, even though we are guilty and he is innocent. For this great love beyond words, we thank you. We pray for those facing death. Grant them peace. Grant them knowledge of your loving kindness. Grant them the ability to recognise their sin, and the hope we all share that Christ has created a place in paradise with him for us. Amen.
Reading St Luke 23: 44-56 – Father, into your hands I commend my Spirit.
The sky turned dark from noon until three. The centurion present, noted that ‘Certainly this man was innocent’. The crowds ended up returning home beating their breasts. Presumably in sorrow. Presumably the crowds that only shortly before hand been shouting ‘Crucify’. And not long before that, ‘Hosanna’. Crowds are fickle.
And at the end, this remarkable cry from the cross: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit’. What are we to make of this, at this extraordinary moment. The cry of a son to his Father? A cry of trust? A cry of hope?
A cry which takes us into, and even beyond, the very mysteries of the Trinity. One God, Father, son and Holy Spirit. At a moment when the experience of human death is taken up into the heart of the very Godhead. A moment when to all intents and purposes, to those standing at the foot of the cross, God is dead. Hope has died. The very blackest hour in the history of the universe.
The son of God, God’s very self with us in the midst of the world, we put to death. We did not see him for what he was. He upset our religion. He upset our politics. He upset popular opinion. And because of weak and vacillating leaders, because of the injustice at the heart of a great Empire we killed him. The women looked on from afar, faithful to the last. The disciples had fled and abandoned him. And God was dead upon the cross.
Except. Except. Whilst those who lived through this most terrible of moments could never have known what was to come next, we do. The Spirit of Christ was indeed with the Father. The world might have rejected and killed God, but God was not dead. If such a sentence can ever make any sense at all. We know the end of the story – we know that the injustice, the inhumanity, the failed political and religious leaders, the abandonment of the disciples, and the denial of love ones, did not mark the end. But in that moment it did. At that moment, life in the world was as black as it has ever been. Perhaps you know something of that blackness. Perhaps you know something of what it is to be abandoned by loved ones. Perhaps you know something of what it is to face injustice. Perhaps you know something of political intrigue and turmoil. God does. For God experienced that cross in the humanity of Christ. Nowhere we might go, has Christ not been. No blackness we have experienced or can imagine, can be any blacker than this moment. We will return to this story in the days to come. For the story is not over. But for today we leave it here.
“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit’. Having said this, he breathed his last’.
Living God, in death upon the cross, Christ brought hope for the world. In death upon the cross, Christ won a victory over death that we are invited to share. In death upon the cross, Christ became a mediator for us who knows the darkness of human life in this world. In death upon the cross, Christ takes the darkness of humanity, and refashions it by grace. For this we give you thanks and praise. Amen.