Why Do They Call It Good?

Sunday Worship at Black Forest Community Church
Black Forest, CO
April 3, 2015 – Good Friday
© Rev. Diane Kay Martin

                                                  Why Do They Call It Good?

Scripture Reading:  The Passion Narrative in John 18:1-19:42

1 Jesus 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 officials 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 officials 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, “Are you not also one of this man’s disciples?” He said, “I am not.” 18 Now the slaves and the officials 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 officials 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, “Are you not also one of his disciples?” 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 officials 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.

Indeed. Why do they call it good? Jesus, the hope of the Jewish people, the hope of humanity, has just been executed by government order and the will of the people. He has been laid to rest in a borrowed tomb, because he is too poor to have purchased one for himself. The Sabbath is approaching, so nothing more can be done regarding the Jewish mourning rituals for 24 hours. The men and women who love Jesus have no choice but to go to their homes and quietly wait, mourn, grieve the loss of hope.

So why do they call it good? Why is it not Sad Friday or Dark Friday or even Black Friday? The good that we see in it is in hindsight; it’s superimposed on the day, based on our knowledge that Easter is coming, but the day itself … well, the story we just heard does not make me want to smile.

What if the story had ended there? Indeed, there have been those throughout history who have contended that it did—those who argue that the resurrection was a hoax, just as the Romans predicted, and that Jesus never really saw the light of day again. If the story had ended there—and that’s all the disciples had to go on at that point—would any good have come out of the whole life and ministry of Jesus? Could it have been “good” Friday, even if Jesus hadn’t been raised from the dead?

Yes. It could have.

Jesus came, preaching a message of reconciliation—reconciliation with God and with every other human being on the planet. Jesus came, preaching a message of peace—peace with enemies, peace with nations, peace with the planet. Jesus came, preaching a message of love—love for God, for humankind, and for self. Jesus demonstrated these messages in every act—in every single thing he did. He healed people on the Sabbath because he knew God wanted them to be whole. He made friends with prostitutes, criminals and crooks because he knew God loved them too. He spent time with children because he knew that they are the future of the world. He turned water into wine at a wedding feast because he knew that God wants us to relax and enjoy the company of our friends and family members. And he prayed to his dear heavenly father because he knew that God wants, more than anything, to be in fellowship with humankind—himself included. That is why God sent him to us. That is the good news, and that is what makes Good Friday “good.” Amen?

If the story had ended with the tomb, we still could have started churches in his name. We still could be Christians. We still would never run out of things to preach about, things to celebrate, things to aspire to. Even if Jesus had not risen from the grave, this would still be “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” That may sound like heresy to some, but to me, it adds even more beauty to the entire story. It was already amazing enough as it was! This man Jesus—who was also the son of God—brought so much good into the world that if we listened, if we believed, if we acted on it, the world would already have been changed forever. I think sometimes we forget that the Gospels are filled with enough wisdom to challenge us, enough miracles to awe us, until the day we die. That puts the “good” back into Good Friday.

And there is “good” hidden in a lot of places in the story. Some of it is symbolism; some of it is fact. But all of it points to God’s longing to give us lives of reconciliation, peace and love.

For example, the crown of thorns[1] that Jesus wore is believed to have been made of hawthorn branches. Today, the extract of the hawthorn tree, commonly called Crown of Thorns extract, is sometimes used to treat problems with the cardiovascular and nervous systems. So, on many levels, Jesus bore the remedy for our troubled hearts, minds and bodies. That is good news.

Another example of good hidden in the passion narratives is this: On the cross, Jesus’ thirst was quenched with soured wine. The wine was mixed with gall (according to Matthew) and myrrh (according to Mark). Taken together, these two mixtures symbolize the bitterness—the gall—of life’s pain, and the sweet, soothing comfort—the myrrh—that God brings. That is good news.

Another example: The wine mixture was lifted to Jesus’ lips using a hyssop[2] branch. Why hyssop? Because hyssop is a symbol of cleansing. In the book of Exodus, when the Israelites marked their doorposts with lamb’s blood in order for the angel of death to pass over them, God instructed them to use a bunch of hyssop as a “paintbrush,” to signify that God was marking his people as pure and exempt from the punishment God was about to deal out to the Egyptians. David also mentions hyssop in Psalm 51:7, when he asks God to cleanse hum spiritually as he confesses his sin. He writes, “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” And when Jesus drank the wine from the hyssop branch, it was, in fact, his last act before he declared his work on earth finished and gave up his spirit. What a beautiful picture of purification this is, as Jesus declares us cleansed, pure, forgiven. And that is good news.

Rev. Geoffrey Black, former General Minister of the United Church of Christ, reflects on the mystery of Holy Week this way: “Perhaps the holiness of this week is to be found in the slight glimmers of hope that break through from time to time as we read the Passion narrative. There is hope to be found in Jesus’ expectation that beyond his death, the Gospel would be proclaimed throughout the world. There is hope expressed in that meal of remembrance and in [Jesus’] expectation that he would indeed drink of the fruit of the vine anew in the Kingdom of God. Hope is evident in Jesus’ declaration that he would be raised from death and go before them to Galilee. … As present-day disciples of Jesus recalling the events of Holy Week, we confront the stark and terrifying realities of his suffering and death, … yet, it is important that we also catch the glimpses of hope laced through the story and hold on to them as a reminder that in the most dire of circumstances, it is in Jesus Christ we find our hope.”[3]

Why do they call it good? Because even if the story ended at the tomb—and thank God it didn’t—we would still have Jesus, the greatest reconciler, peacemaker and lover of all time. Because even if the story ended at the tomb—and thank God it didn’t—we could still be certain that Jesus heals the trouble of our hearts, the bitterness of our lives, and the guilt of our souls. Hope is laced through the story, and hope will carry us through to Easter Sunday. Amen.

[1] http://homeremedies4mom.com/crown-of-thorns-extract-heart-problems/

[2] http://www.gotquestions.org/hyssop-Bible.html#ixzz3W5PBFKE6

[3] The Holiness Found in Hope: A Meditation For Holy Week, March 31, 2015.