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Good Friday, 04/06/2007

Sermon on John 18:1-19:42, by Luke Bouman

John 18:1 After Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. 2 Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with his disciples. 3 So Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. 4 Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, "Whom are you looking for?" 5 They answered, "Jesus of Nazareth." Jesus replied, "I am he." Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. 6 When Jesus said to them, "I am he," they stepped back and fell to the ground. 7 Again he asked them, "Whom are you looking for?" And they said, "Jesus of Nazareth." 8 Jesus answered, "I told you that I am he. So if you are looking for me, let these men go." 9 This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken, "I did not lose a single one of those whom you gave me." 10 Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest's slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave's name was Malchus. 11 Jesus said to Peter, "Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?"

            12 So the soldiers, their officer, and the Jewish police arrested Jesus and bound him. 13 First they took him to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. 14 Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was better to have one person die for the people.

            15 Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, 16 but Peter was standing outside at the gate. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and brought Peter in. 17 The woman said to Peter, "You are not also one of this man's disciples, are you?" He said, "I am not." 18 Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing around it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself.

            19 Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. 20 Jesus answered, "I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. 21 Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said." 22 When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, "Is that how you answer the high priest?" 23 Jesus answered, "If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?" 24 Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.

            25 Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, "You are not also one of his disciples, are you?" He denied it and said, "I am not." 26 One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, "Did I not see you in the garden with him?" 27 Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed. 28 Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate's headquarters. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover. 29 So Pilate went out to them and said, "What accusation do you bring against this man?" 30 They answered, "If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you." 31 Pilate said to them, "Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law." The Jews replied, "We are not permitted to put anyone to death." 32 (This was to fulfill what Jesus had said when he indicated the kind of death he was to die.)

            33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" 34 Jesus answered, "Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?" 35 Pilate replied, "I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?" 36 Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here." 37 Pilate asked him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice." 38 Pilate asked him, "What is truth?"

            After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, "I find no case against him. 39 But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?" 40 They shouted in reply, "Not this man, but Barabbas!" Now Barabbas was a bandit.

            19:1 Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. 2 And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. 3 They kept coming up to him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" and striking him on the face. 4 Pilate went out again and said to them, "Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him." 5 So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, "Here is the man!" 6 When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, "Crucify him! Crucify him!" Pilate said to them, "Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him." 7 The Jews answered him, "We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God."

            8 Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. 9 He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, "Where are you from?" But Jesus gave him no answer. 10 Pilate therefore said to him, "Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?" 11 Jesus answered him, "You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin." 12 From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, "If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor."

            13 When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge's bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha. 14 Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, "Here is your King!" 15 They cried out, "Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!" Pilate asked them, "Shall I crucify your King?" The chief priests answered, "We have no king but the emperor." 16 Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.

            So they took Jesus; 17 and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. 19 Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." 20 Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. 21 Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, "Do not write, 'The King of the Jews,' but, 'This man said, I am King of the Jews.'" 22 Pilate answered, "What I have written I have written." 23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. 24 So they said to one another, "Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it." This was to fulfill what the scripture says,
"They divided my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots."

25 And that is what the soldiers did.
            Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, "Woman, here is your son." 27 Then he said to the disciple, "Here is your mother." And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

            28 After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), "I am thirsty." 29 A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the wine, he said, "It is finished." Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

            31 Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. 32 Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. 35 (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.) 36 These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, "None of his bones shall be broken." 37 And again another passage of scripture says, "They will look on the one whom they have pierced."

            38 After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. 39 Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. 40 They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. 42 And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.


The Crowning of the King

Monarchs are crowned in many cultures, and the pageantry and customs that surround the coronation are unique to each particular monarchy.  The scenario usually goes something like this: The claimant to the throne first appears before the correct authorities to validate the claim. These authorities are likely a combination of the religious leaders, and the political or military council, all of whom will establish that the claim is legitimate, not without some self interest.  The establishment of legitimacy usually involves some sort of trial, or ordeal, to test the mettle of the new monarch. 

Once the claim is established, usually as a matter of formality, the common people are consulted, or at least a crowd that has been roused to cheer for the monarch, regardless of how the people really feel.  (Let us, for the sake of argument, assume that the monarch is beloved already.)  Following this, there come the ceremonies as the official signs of the office are bestowed upon the new monarch.  There are robes, scepters, and crowns given, as well as a throne prepared from which the new monarch will judge the disputes of the people.  Courtiers will be waiting nearby, some to petition the new monarch, and some, family and friends who will support and advise.  All of this is done, usually according to centuries old established traditions, to give the air of consistency from one generation to the next, down through the ages. Finally the new monarch is invested with a title and begins his or her reign. 

Even though I live in the democratized western world, where we have not kings and queens but presidents, the customs are still the same.  Look at the hoopla surrounding a presidential inauguration in the United States.  We invest our leaders with authority according to custom.  And most of us, even in the United States are fascinated by countries where there are still monarchs, even if they are only figureheads.  We watch royal weddings and coronations with rapt attention.  We know a good coronation when we see one.


 A Twisted Coronation

I am generally inclined not to preach on the Passion Reading from St. John on Good Friday.  It is so grand, so sweeping, so moving, read altogether.  In my congregation we don't divide the reading with song, or meditation along the way.  We just read it and allow it to have its impact.  I hope you have taken the time to read it today, before you jumped right into this meditation.  If not, go back and do it now.  It is worth the journey. 

There are too many things in this reading to do any of it justice in a sermon.  We end up with only a part of what John is showing us.  And I will reveal only a part of my meditation on the passion of Jesus in this writing.  But it is a way of connecting some of what John does with his peculiar version of the narrative.  He is showing us a coronation, point for point.  But it is an upside down and turned around coronation at best.

Jesus spends time in personal preparation before he goes to be examined by the authorities.  Then he is presented by one of his close friends, though his presentation is a betrayal.  He is examined and goes through a period of testing by the religious and political/military authorities of the day, both of whom try to establish if he is the one truly anointed to be king.  But in this case, when they discover that his claim is dangerously true, the intention is to elevate him, not to throne, but cross.

He is robbed with royal purple, and given a crown, albeit of thorns.  He is presented to the people, who shout the acclimation of disdain, calling for his crucifixion.  In that culture, where emperors were also divine, the accusation is leveled that he claimed to be a Son of God.  Finally, the claim is established, and therefore the sentence of death is carried out.  Jesus is led to be enthroned on a cross, and given the title, "King of the Jews."  He is surrounded by courtiers who spit and deride, and friends and family who mourn.  He passes a single judgement, offering his mother a new son to depend upon.  He dies and is placed in a royal tomb.

All of these things should leave no doubt that John's Gospel is following a coronation script with its treatment of Jesus passion and death.  And we are left to puzzle why?  Is this simply some twisted trick of the author, or is there more to this pattern than we are able to see?  The answer depends upon what it is that you see Jesus doing.  Over what is he anointed ruler?  Where is his kingdom?

If we assume for a moment that his kingdom is merely Israel, that he meant to establish an earthly kingdom along the lines of David, his ancestor, then this is a parody of a coronation, that heightens the tragedy and leaves us breathless and hopeless.  Jesus himself suggests otherwise.  "My kingdom is not from this world... my kingdom is not from here."  Jesus knows more than we do.  He knows that his dominion must go beyond the earthly boundaries of our political empires.  He must rule over life and death itself for his own death to make a difference.  And in the resurrection that knowledge becomes his reality and ours.

For we see the events of Good Friday not as a people who does not know the outcome.  We do not come to worship and suspend reality for a moment so as to wallow in grief and darkness.  In the light of the resurrection we cannot but be God's resurrection people.  And seeing the risen Lord, we now see the events as perhaps John intended.  They are a coronation, not twisted and perverse, but hidden from those who would serve death rather than life. 

For those of use who encounter the risen Jesus, we can look back on the events of Good Friday and see that Jesus is walking a path that leads to the end of the rule of death in our world, and end to the powers who would use death to hold authority in the world.  Jesus' elevation to the throne of the cross transforms our world, so that even the cross itself is transformed.  No longer is it a symbol of torture and death, but it has become a symbol of love and of life, worn the world over out of hope.

Against all evidence, and with the resurrection as our guide, we see that Jesus is indeed most truly king when he submits to the power of death.  And he destroys the hopes and dreams of all kings, queens, presidents, prime ministers and dictators who would hope that they can use their thrones and offices for personal gain and pleasure.  Instead we now find that Jesus is most regal when he is a servant, giving himself for his people, for all the people of the world.  He is Israel's messiah, but also so much more.  He carries out Israel's vocation to be the light for all nations, and he does so paradoxically by submitting to the powers of darkness.

Thus we find that Jesus, Lord of all, is hidden, yet present as he dies on the cross.  And with our eyes thus opened, we are able to see much more of what our God has hidden and planted in our world: peace, justice and life for us to harvest and manifest in our lives.  The world may condemn and crucify us for it, but the reality hidden within is always much more than the rulers of the world can see. 

For just as this coronation is upside down, so is the reign of God upside down and backwards from what the world expects.  The king does not rule as a despot, or even as a part of the upper crust nobility, no matter how benign.  He joins the suffering and death of the lowliest.   This king does not use death as a weapon, but rather endures death as a weapon and destroys its power.  This king shatters everything that we understand about kings, hierarchy and authority.  And thus this coronation is a fitting announcement of the inauguration of the reign of God, of the coming of the messiah, of the salvation, the wholeness, of all creation.

So on this day we adore the Lord of the cross.  We honor his throne where he has overcome the power of sin, destroyed the power of death, declared the beginning of the end of the world's selfish ways, established God's reign, accomplished, though not yet fully here in his death and resurrection.  We adore you, O Christ, and humbly bow before you, for by your cross you have brought salvation and life to the cosmos.

Dr. Luke Bouman
Tree of Life Lutheran Church,
Conroe, Texas
E-Mail: lbouman@treeoflifelutheran.org