(All Scriptures taken from The Inclusive Bible)
Given on March 29th, 2013 at United Presbyterian Church of Amsterdam, NY
1. Jesus Prays Alone
Then Jesus went out and made his way as usual to the mount of olives; the disciples accompanied him. when they reached the place, Jesus said to them, “Pray that you not be put to the test.” Then Jesus withdrew about a stone’s throw from them, knelt down and prayed, “abba, if it’s your will, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done.” when Jesus rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping, exhausted with grief.
I wonder what it was like to have one last moment of peace before God and the world, before your arrest, before you trial, before your death. I wonder what it must have been like knowing that the mechanisms of hate were already moving, bringing you before all those who want you silenced. I wonder what it was like to know that the gift of your life spoke much more than any words you could say would. I wonder if there were any second thoughts those last moments before your arrest.
2. Jesus is Arrested
While Jesus was still speaking, a crowd suddenly appeared with Judas, one of the twelve, at their head. Judas came over to Jesus to embrace him, but Jesus said, “Judas, are you betraying the chosen one with a kiss?” Those who were around Jesus, realizing what was going to happen, said, “Rabbi, should we strike them with our swords?” One of them struck the attendant of the high priest, cutting off an ear. But Jesus said, “stop! no more of this!” then Jesus touched the attendant’s ear and healed it. But to those who had come out against him—the chief priests, the chiefs of the temple Guard and the elders—Jesus said, “why do you come out with swords and clubs as if i were a robber? I was with you in the temple every day, and you could have laid hands on me any time you wanted. but this is your hour—the triumph of darkness!”
With Judas leading them, those who do you in are now here and the hour is at hand when the son of humanity will be handed over to the earthly powers of oppression and injustice. And a kiss, what a way to be betrayed. And by one of your own. Given away by the one who had been given everything in you. And he didn’t even know it. And the others, surrounding you, protecting you, trying to fight off the hoard. Did they still not get that those who live by the sword will always die by the sword? It must be this way, there were no other options.
3. Pilate Tries Jesus
So Pilate reentered the Praetorium and summoned Jesus. “Are you the King of the Jews?” asked Pilate. Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or have others told you about me?” Pilate replied, “Am I Jewish? It is your own people and the chief priests who hand you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My realm is not of this world; if it belonged to this world, my people would have fought to keep me out of the hands of the Temple authorities. No, my realm is not of this world.” Pilate said, “So you’re a King?” Jesus replied, “You say I’m a King. I was born and came into the world for One purpose—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who seeks the truth hears my voice.” “Truth? What is truth?” asked Pilate.
I wonder what it was like to stand before Pilate. A man whose power was gained through occupation. I wonder what it was like to listen to him ask you questions that he knew nothing about. I wonder what it was like to try again and again to explain the difference between God’s plan and the plan of the occupying forces. God’s perfect plan and the broken plans of humankind. And for him to finally ask the question that had been on his lips the whole time. “What is truth?,” he asked, as if he weren’t staring it right in the face before him. I am the way, the truth, and the life, you had said. And Pilate couldn’t begin to understand that.
4. Pilate Condemns Jesus to Die
Now, on the occasion of a festival, the governor was accustomed to release one prisoner, whomever the crowd would designate. At the time they were holding a notorious prisoner named Barabbas. So when the crowd gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you wish me to release for you? Barabbas? Or Jesus, the so-called Messiah?” Pilate knew, of course, that it was out of jealousy that they had handed Jesus over. While Pilate was still presiding on the bench, his wife sent him a message: “Have nothing to do with that innocent man. I had a dream about him last night which has been troubling me all day long.” But the chief priests and elders convinced the crowds that they should ask for Barabbas, and have Jesus put to death. So when the governor asked them, “Which one do you wish me to release for you?” they all cried, “Barabbas!” Pilate said to them, “Then what am I to do with Jesus, the so-called Messiah?” “Crucify him!” they all said. “Why? What crime has he committed?” Pilate asked. But they only shouted louder, “Crucify him!” Pilate finally realized that he was getting nowhere with this—in fact, a riot was breaking out. Pilate called for water and washed his hands in front of the crowd, declaring as he did so, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. The responsibility is yours.” The whole crowd said in reply, “Let his blood be on us and on our children.”
It must have been hard to hear all your children turn on you and run as fast as they could in the other direction. I wonder if it pierced your heart, pierced your soul much more than any lash or slap could. I wonder if you wept for the fall of generations upon generations of your brothers and sisters as they took the guilt on themselves, not realizing that that very act would change the course of history for them and for you, forever. I wonder what it must have felt like to hear the words, “crucify him” over and over again and know that they were talking about you.
5. Jesus Wears the Crown of Thorns
The governor’s soldiers took Jesus inside the Praetorium and assembled the whole cohort around him. They stripped off his clothes and wrapped him in a scarlet military cloak. Weaving a crown out of thorns, they pressed it onto his head and stuck a reed in his right hand. Then they began to mock Jesus by dropping to their knees, saying, “All hail, King of the Jews!” They also spat at him. Afterward they took hold of the reed and struck Jesus on the head. Finally, when they had finished mocking him, they stripped him of the cloak, dressed him in his own clothes and led him off to crucifixion.
Your humiliation complete. Dressed the garb of false royalty. Paraded around the prison yard like someone important, not the common criminal about to be killed. As they struck you and spat on you and dropped that painful crown on your head I wonder if the weight of the situation had become very real, very present. I wonder what it must have felt like to humble yourself to below the soldiers of the occupying force who had for so long desemated your country, your faith, your family and friends. To now be before them and being mocked must have felt unbearable. And yet, you remained.
6. Jesus Carries His Cross
Then Pilate handed Jesus over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus, carrying his own cross, to what is called the Place of the skull—in Hebrew, “Golgotha.”
I can’t imagine what it must have felt like after being scourged and taunted to have the cross beam of the instrument of death dropped on your shoulders as the soldiers pushed your down the road to your death. Surely, this was the very last drop of life you had in you when you fell down in the road and no amount of kicking or beating or taunting could move you from that place. If they were going to kill you in a public fashion, you and the cross would have to be carried by someone else.
7. Simon Helps Carry the Cross
Finally, when they had finished mocking him, they stripped him of the cloak, dressed him in his own clothes and led him off to crucifixion. On their way out, they met a Cyrenian named Simon, whom they pressed into service to carry the cross.
I wonder what it must have been like to be greeted by the mob of people moving for that hellish place of the skull. Where men and women were led out to the doom day after day. I wonder what it must have been like to encounter such a bloodthirsty crowd screaming for the death of one who looked so meek and mild, so broken and bloody. I wonder what it must have been like to be pressed into service to offer one final bit of kindness to the convicted criminal. One final bit of kindness that only hastened his death and all the agony that went with it. How could they do this?
8. Jesus Is Nailed to the Cross
Upon arriving at a site called Golgotha—which means Skull Place—they gave Jesus a drink of wine mixed with a narcotic herb, which Jesus tasted but refused to drink. Once they had nailed Jesus to the cross, they divided his clothes among them by olling dice; then they sat down and kept watch over him. Above his head, they put the charge against him in writing: “This is Jesus, King of the Jews.”
It is impossible to imagine the pain that must seer through one’s body as nails are placed through the wrists and ankles. With no concern about the condition of the body once they were done it must have felt like explosions of burning metal coursing through your veins as the hammer descends again and again and again. By then could you even manage a scream, a word, a whimper. Or had most of the life been drained out of your body already and all you could do was wait for the dying to begin. But you still felt compassion. For those around you, for those in your midst, for those hanging next to you even as your own weight made the pain of even breathing unbearable.
9. Criminals Speak to Jesus
One of the criminals who hung there beside him insulted Jesus, too, saying, “are you really the messiah? then save yourself—and us!” But the other answered the first with a rebuke: “don’t you even fear God? we are only paying the price for what we have done, but this one has done nothing wrong!” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your glory.” Jesus replied, “the truth is, today you’ll be with me in paradise!”
I wonder what it must have been like to be hanging there, stretching to take a breath and pain ripping you apart again and again only to be insulted by the one hanging next to you. But as you always did. Your eyes full of compassion. You words a prayer to and for the one who hung opposite of the other. One final gift to the man who had entered confession and penance all at the same time. Today you will be with me in paradise.
10. Jesus Cares for His Mother
Standing close to Jesus’ cross were his mother; his mother’s sister, Mary, the wife of Clopas; and Mary of Magdala. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing there, he said to his mother, “Here is your son.” Then he said to his disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that moment, the disciple took her into his household.
Your mother. Her pain must have hurt more than even the crucifixion itself. Her eyes filled with tears as she struggles to undertstand why it must be this way. And your disciple. The one you loved like a brother standing next to her, holding her up in her pain. A final gift to each other them. The gift of each other. The gift of support in the trying times that were now and to come. The gift of love arising from the most heinous of manners. They would be together forever, even though you would be out of sight.
11. Jesus Dies on the Cross
At noon, a darkness fell over the whole land until about three in the afternoon. At that hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” which means, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” This made some of the bystanders who heard it remark, “He is calling for elijah!” One of them hurried off and got a sponge. He soaked the sponge in cheap wine and, sticking it on a reed, tried to make Jesus drink. The others said, “Leave him alone. Let’s see whether Elijah comes to his rescue.” Once again, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, then he gave up his spirit. Suddenly, the curtain in front of the Holy of Holies was ripped in half from top to bottom.
Where had you gone, God? How could you leave me here like this. The pain is too much. The people turning their backs on me is too much. My own disciples slinking away in pain is too much. I am alone. All alone. WIth nothing in my future but death and separation from the people I love so much. Are you sure it must be this way, that I must drink this cup, and offer my body, my life, as the ultimate testimony of your love for the world. If it must be then it must be. It is finished.
12. Jesus is Laid in the Tomb
After this, Joseph of Arimathea, a disciple of Jesus—but a secret One, for fear of the Temple authorities—asked Pi-late for permission to remove the body of Jesus, and Pilate granted it. So Joseph came and took it away. Nicodemus came as well—the same one who had first come to Jesus by night—and he brought about One hundred pounds of spices, a mixture of myrrh and aloes. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the Jewish burial custom. There was a garden in the place where Jesus had been crucified, and in the garden was a new tomb where no one had ever been buried. Since it was the day before the Sabbath and the tomb was nearby, they buried Jesus there.
The weight of the moments that followed his death must have been completely surreal. The one whom you had followed all this way, always holding out hope in the back of your mind that he would make it through this. That you might be saved by him That all of Israel might be saved from the occupying forces. That light did in fact shine in the darkness and the darkness was not able to overcome it. But all you can see is darkness. Jesus is dead. His lifeless body laying in a tomb. Is this really how it was supposed to end?