Reflections on the Passion – Good Friday 2023


The Passion Gospel: Luke 22:47-23:56

  • Luke 22:47-53 (While Jesus was praying….power of darkness)

Why did Judas do it? For 30 pieces of silver, the price of a common slave, he had agreed to give up the Teacher he had followed. Perhaps he thought that the revelation of Jesus as Son of God was going too slowly. Perhaps he thought he could speed up God’s purpose. Perhaps if the authorities actually laid hands on his master, God would intervene dramatically, expose them as hypocrites, and reveal Jesus as divine. Perhaps Judas was misguided rather than inherently evil. Perhaps his actions were stimulated by lack of understanding rather than by

malevolence. During the next hours, Judas watched as Jesus was shuttled from one period of questioning to another. What was happening? What had gone wrong? Why did God not intervene?

  • Luke 22:54-62 (After Jesus had…wept bitterly)

The scene moves from Jesus’ arrest at the entrance to the garden to the high priest’s palace, where Jesus was being questioned. Peter had been watching from a distance, trying to look inconspicuous. Now the night was getting colder under the clear desert skies. Peter began to shiver, and gradually moved up closer to where a group of onlookers was standing around a small fire to keep warm, much as a group of striking workers might gather today for warmth around a fire outside the factory gates. Imagine the look of astonishment mixed with anger on Peter’s face when the servant girl confronted him. It’s how we all react when things suddenly go wrong. Peter had thought that he could melt unnoticed into the crowd. What was it in his manner that made him stand out? He didn’t say anything, so it wasn’t his rough Galilean accent that gave him away. Perhaps it was his manner of dressing that made him look a bit of a country bumpkin among the more sophisticated folks of Jerusalem. Whatever it was, he was now exposed. The worst of it all was that he now remembered that conversation with Jesus earlier in the evening, “Before this night is over, Peter, you’ll deny even knowing me – not just once, but three times.” Talk about being a failure! No wonder Peter broke down in tears.

  • Luke 22:63-71 (Now the men….his own lips!)

As people who grew up in the 20th century, we are all too familiar with the idea of a kangaroo court, where the verdict and the sentence are predetermined. We have heard all too clearly what happens and has happened in totalitarian regimes such as Communist Russia and Nazi Germany. These regimes were not the first to perpetrate such injustices and they will not be the last. The story of Jesus’ trial is a story of our flawed humanity more than one of theology. Even in our own time, we read how the chance of being convicted of serious crimes is impacted by your status in society – rich or poor, or of the predominant racial or cultural group rather than a minority.

  • Luke 23:1-5, 13-16 (Then the assembly…release him)

Pilate had a dilemma. With all the crowds in Jerusalem for the Passover celebrations, he really didn’t want to provoke a rebellion. Not that he wasn’t confident his troops could put it down. But it wouldn’t look good in Rome if the word got back that he couldn’t keep his province under control. And this was the same rabble-rouser who’d had such a big following just the week before when he had arrived in Jerusalem. So Pilate weaved and dodged, offering up the notorious Barabbas in place of Jesus. But when that offer was rejected, he went along with the crowd and ordered Jesus to be crucified. After all, what was one more dead Galilean? He had more important things to worry about.

  • Luke 23:18-25 (Then they all shouted…as they wished)

How typical! When the crowd gets going, it seems impossible to stick your neck out and go against the flow. Perhaps we all want to see ourselves on the winning side, just as support builds in modern elections for the candidate who seems to have momentum, according to opinion polls. So in the heat and excitement of the moment, today’s winner was Barabbas, even though we felt ashamed of what we had done when we went home and thought about the matter rationally. Everyone had betrayed Jesus. Peter stood aside. The crowd stood aside. Pilate stood aside. How many times do we stand aside, preferring to keep quiet when we see injustices in our own world? Afterwards, we know we should have spoken up. If the same thing happened again, we console ourselves, we surely would. But somehow, the right moment didn’t present itself. Somehow, we couldn’t find the right words. And Jesus goes off to be crucified.

  • Luke 23:26-29 (As they led him…never nursed)

Simon must have been a very devout Jew to have made the long journey from Cyrene, on the north coast of Africa, to take part in the Passover festivities in Jerusalem. Probably it was his first and only visit. How he must have admired the Temple, set on a hill, gleaming in the sunlight with its white stone and gold decorations. You had to hand it to King Herod who had rebuilt the place; he certainly knew a thing or two about impressive architecture. Driven by curiosity, Simon found himself watching some sort of procession through the city.

Then he realized what it was: it was a group of three men being driven out of the city to their crucifixions. His home in Cyrene wasn’t under Roman rule at that time. Simon had heard about this barbarous method of execution that the Romans favoured, but he’d never actually seen one before. He couldn’t believe the size of the crosses the three men were being forced to carry. And how heavy they looked.

One man had some kind of crown of thorns on his head and a placard that read “King of the Jews.” Simon had no idea what that might mean, but he did notice that the poor wretch was absolutely at the end of his rope. He looked as if he might collapse at any moment. And in fact, that’s exactly what did happen. Right in front of Simon, he just stumbled, and the heavy cross collapsed on top of him. Simon was horrified.

But suddenly one of the guards grabbed Simon, and roughly thrust him into the middle of the procession. “Hey, you! You help him carry the cross.” Simon was terrified. What had he done to deserve this? He was only a visitor to the city. Why should he be treated like some kind of criminal? And what was going to happen when they reached their destination? Was he going to be crucified as well? His own knees buckled at the thought of it.

  • Luke 23:32-38 (Two others also…King of the Jews)

Finally, the procession reached its destination, the skull-shaped hill along one of the roads leading out of Jerusalem. In Latin, it was called Calvary; in Aramaic, Jesus’ own language, it was called Golgotha. There the three men hung. No one could do anything for them now.

  • Luke 23:39-49 (One of the…watching these things)

Most of the disciples had long since run away, keeping their heads down in case they should find themselves on crosses along with Jesus. It was the women who quietly kept the faith. Not for nothing were women leading members of the early Church. The Church retained the memory of how it was they who had watched with Jesus right to the end, till he had breathed his last with the words, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

  • Luke 23:50-56 (Now there was…to the commandment)

Joseph of Arimathea must have been a disciple of some standing in the community. He was able to approach Pilate and ask for Jesus’ body. Most crucified criminals were left up on their crosses to hang there on the outskirts of town as a warning to other would-be troublemakers or criminals. “This is what will happen to you if you step out of line in my city.” But Joseph succeeded in obtaining Jesus’ body for a decent burial, not left out as food for the vultures and the ravens. But there was no time for the proper rituals of burial – proper purification rituals according to the Jewish practice, anointing the body with oil and proper arrangement of the body in the tomb. There was just time to have the body placed in the tomb and roll a large stone in front of it to protect the body from grave-robbers.

Today, Good Friday, we remember the death of Jesus. We remember also that there is still evil and suffering in this world. In Christ’s Passion we might see that God suffers with us, whether we be victims of oppression and violence, or are simply burdened by the pains of grief and past mistakes. After three years of pandemic, we might be particularly attuned to our fragility and weaknesses. Today we have an opportunity to express our pain through the simple act of bringing a carnation forward to lay at the foot of this wooden cross. The flower may represent a particular grief or burden you are carrying. Flowers, so often present at occasions of both mourning and celebration, can be powerfully symbolic for us today.

For today we face our vulnerability, but we also wait in hope for the miracle of Easter, not just as it happened in those far-off days in Jerusalem, but in hope that cruelty, injustice, grief and pain, will one day be no more. Good Friday is a time of sadness, but we know how the story continues on Easter Sunday, and that knowledge is the source of our hope and inspiration.