Throughout the year, the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ reproduces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for April 15th, Good Friday: Psalm 22; Isaiah 52:13—53:12; John 18:1—19:42; and Hebrews 10:16-25. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
Today’s readings are much longer than usual, but today is a most unusual day. This is the day when the church remembers Jesus’ tortured death on the cross. It is hoped that on such a day we would choose to devote more time to our faith. It is for this reason that the church building will be open from noon until 3PM today for private prayer and meditation. We read in the Gospels that Jesus was crucified at 9AM, the skies grew dark at noon, and Jesus died at 3PM. I encourage you to use our sanctuary as part of your Good Friday practice. Place has meaning. To feel the quiet and calm of the place can only help us feel closer to Christ. And for over 300 years people of faith have come to this place to express and uplift their souls. I don’t know how, but it feels like they’ve added something of themselves to this House of God.
I believe we need places of sanctuary, especially now in our world. There are so many news stories that just weigh so heavily upon the soul. In today’s Gospel selection, Jesus tells Pilate, “‘Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” To which Pilate responds from the weariness of a constantly challenged soul: “‘What is truth?’” I don’t hear this as a deeply philosophical question. I think it’s more the ennui of a politician who must present different realities to different parties. It’s almost like Pilate is saying, “I’ve told so many lies to so many people so often that I don’t even know what the truth is any longer.”
Pulling Pilate’s example into our world, I wonder how it is possible for Russian leaders to order crimes against humanity to be committed en masse by forces under their control and then to stand up and testify that these heinous actions could not possibly be committed by our forces. They see them as unjustifiable savagery, and yet have no compunction to continue to act in that way. How do they reconcile their denials of these atrocities as inhumane while simultaneously knowing that they were and will continue to be committed? Don’t they realize that they themselves are inhumane? Don’t they hear their own words? Or have they taught themselves that what they say does not matter. It must be morally exhausting to play this game day in and day out, and I think such hollowed-out people are represented in Pilate’s question, “‘What is truth?’”
In the Gospel account, it was only hours earlier that Jesus had stated emphatically, “‘[Father] [s]anctify them in truth. Your word is truth.’” (17:17) Again, this is not meant to be a philosophical debate. John is here presenting us with a fundamental choice. Is our truth self-serving and basically untrustworthy as in the example of Pilate’s question, or is our truth the abiding Word of God? If it is the Word of God, we should be able to see in the cross Jesus’ complete commitment to that truth. Jesus will not resort even to the self-defense as violence represented by the harm inflicted on Malchus. Jesus’ dedication to the truth of the gospel is complete, even to the point of His hanging on the cross. What a contrast to Pilate and all those whom Pilate represents.
On this Good Friday, hopefully we will find the time to look up at Jesus from the foot of the cross, and to there be able to let Jesus know that His truth matters. We may not be able to be as fully committed to the truth as Jesus, but in our crucified Saviour we have an ideal to follow, an example to help make us better people. The cross is not an isolated event in Jesus’ life. It is the completion of Jesus’ life. It is the last and finest of Jesus’ gospel proclamations. As we arrive at the end of our Lenten journey, it is the time to ponder Jesus’ truth and our response to it. May we give Jesus the time today to think about what His truth means.
If you’d like, here is the link to the Southern New England Conference’s daily reading schedule: www.sneucc.org/lectionary.
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