For the Ecumenical Service at Greenwood Baptist,
with Park Slope Presbyterian.
Ninety-eight score and fifteen years ago our spiritual forefathers played out in Jerusalem an old story, conceived in bondage, and dedicated to the presumption that all men must protect their interests. Today we are met in a sanctuary which is dedicated to that story. We have come to remember that story, and to see what meaning it has for us.
The world will little note nor long remember what we do here, just as, if not for the resurrection three days later, it would not have noted nor remembered what happened that Friday in Jerusalem. It was all too common and unremarkable. That a governor sacrifices justice for political expediency. That the leadership sacrifices the life of the innocent for the sake of national security. That a man denies the one he loves.
Jesus is the only one in bondage here, but he’s the only one who’s free. Do you notice how the others are all compelled by fear? Pontius Pilate by fear for his imperial career should there be trouble in his province. Annas and Caiaphas by fear of Roman reprisals if they cannot keep control. Peter by fear for his own skin. He is in such bondage, he cannot do what he wants to do.
It is Jesus who is free. He is impervious to intimidation and will not be baited by the questions they ask him. Every time he speaks he keeps to his own agenda. He is like the rock against which all the other characters break like waves, and expose themselves.
I tried to figure out how many hours he was in chains. It depends on how long they sat for dinner and how long he prayed in the Garden. Let’s they arrested him at 2 AM. Even with the interrogations, a good part of that night he must have been standing around waiting. That’s as usual with the government.
Waiting. Waiting silently, being watched, being measured by their eyes, being scrutinized in wonder and in fear. Waiting on God, his suddenly silent Father, beginning to turn his face away. Abandoning him to injustice, letting the unfair wrath of sinful humanity begin to have its way with him, these high priests who had their office on God’s authority, this Roman governor whose power had been given from above. God lets him go.
Jesus is keeping vigil here. I’m sure that already here he is meditating on his scripture verses to keep him strong, and singing his favorite Psalms for comfort and encouragement.
It struck me that there are very few stories in the Bible that take place over night. The original Passover, of course, ever after to be commemorated with an all night vigil. Daniel in the Lion’s Den. Both of these stories are recapitulated in our story tonight. But also Jacob wrestling with the angel, or was it God that he was wrestling with? Here Jesus himself is grappling with his Father and his God, who does not speak, who injures him, but who does not show his face.
Jesus himself is radically the face of God. He shows us here what God is like for us. When the suffering of the world and the success of rebellion and the power of evil make us raise our voices to heaven and say, "Where are you God, why don’t you do something, why don’t you act, why don’t you defend the cause of right and righteousness?" then God keeps to God’s own agenda. God has a sovereign plan, and on the way to it, God suffers along with us.
And we may also see something new in his humanity. His humanity is not as unique as you think. He is showing us what can be true for us as well. He is able to be so free, so purposeful, and so righteous because he is already living in the power of the resurrection. He is not yet immortal here, he still must die, but he is living in the power of his resurrection.
As will his followers after him, when they too are put in chains, and flogged, and mocked, and unfairly accused, and condemned to death, and who under pressure speak their own agenda, and sing, and love their enemies and refuse the power of fear and look to the interests of others.
This is what we want tonight. Philippians 3:10-11. We want to know Christ, and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible we may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Copyright © 2008 by Daniel Meeter, all rights reserved.