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Holy Week School of Prayer: Good Friday

Meditations for Holy Week – Friday: “I am the Good Shepherd”

The Good Friday liturgy is one of the most dramatic liturgies of the year.  In it, we listen to the entire Passion narrative from John’s Gospel (John 18 and 19) and join in praying the Solemn Collects.  We also have a unique opportunity to express our devotion in the Veneration of the Cross.

One of the most popular and accessible images of Jesus is that of the Good Shepherd.  Even small children grasp its power and its significance.  It is a common image throughout Scripture, not only for God and for Jesus, but also for those in pastoral positions.  In the Hebrew Scriptures God is portrayed as a shepherd to his people (Ps.23:1, Ps.95:7, Ps.100:2, Isa.40:11).  Jesus likens himself to a shepherd in ways that speak of his love and care for his followers.  In John, he says that he is the Good Shepherd, who knows each of his sheep by name and who leads and protects them.  Unlike the hireling who flees at the first sign of danger, the Good Shepherd is ready and willing to give up his own life for the sheep (10:11-15), which he will do on this day which we call “Good Friday.”

The gospel lesson for today’s liturgy is John 18 and 19.  It records Jesus’ arrest in the garden (18:1-11), Peter’s denial (18:15-18,25-27), Jesus’ appearances before Annas and Caiaphas the high priests (18:12-13,19-24), his trial before Pilate (18:28-19:16a), his crucifixion (19:16b-37) and his burial (19:38-42). It differs significantly in tone from the Synoptic accounts; here Jesus is composed, “knowing” what will happen to him and accepting it.  He speaks with an authority that overshadows the authority of the High Priests and of Pilate.  His life is not taken from him by either religious or civil authorities;  instead, he lays down his life, as a good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep (John 10:11-15).

John describes Jesus’ trial before Pilate as a drama with seven scenes.  The scenes alternate between two physical spaces: inside (I) the Praetorium, where Pilate interrogates Jesus, and outside (O) where Pilate tries to reason with “the Jews” (i.e. with Jesus’ opponents who are seeking his death).  The scenes are as follows:

(1) Outside Jews demand Jesus’ death. 18:28-32 (7) Outside Jews obtain Jesus’ death. 19:12b-16
(2) Inside Pilate questions Jesus – about his kingship 18:33-18a (6) Inside Pilate questions Jesus – about his power 19:9-12a
(3) Outside Pilate tells the Jews that Jesus is innocent 18:38b-40 (5) Outside Pilate tells the Jews that Jesus is innocent 19:4-8
(4) Inside Jesus is mocked and scourged 19:1-3

Jesus’ accusers come to Pilate because by Roman law they are not permitted to put Jesus to death (18:31).  The real reason they want the death penalty for Jesus is because he has committed blasphemy by claiming to be the Son of God (19:7), but knowing that this argument will not sway Pilate, they accuse Jesus of being a king and therefore a threat to Caesar (19:14b-15).  Although Pilate is reluctant to condemn an innocent man to death, his fear of Caesar and of the crowd ultimately force his hand.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, and several other women are present at the Crucifixion in John’s Gospel, along with the Beloved Disciple, to whom Jesus gives the responsibility of caring for his mother (19:26-27).  Jesus, self-possessed and in control, offers no agonizing cry from the Cross (unlike Jesus in the synoptic gospels, who cries in anguish, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).  Instead he asks for a drink (in order to fulfill the scripture) and then pronounces, “It is finished” (19:28-30).  He is buried with a staggering amount of precious spices (a burial fit for a king) and laid in a tomb (19:38-42).

In our prayer today we contemplate these somber events, allowing them to speak to us of God’s great love for us (John 3:16) and allowing them to inspire within us love in return.  We may also contemplate the image of the Good Shepherd, an image that brings consolation and hope.

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One thought on “Holy Week School of Prayer: Good Friday

  1. I like this sermon very much. I have a rather large copy of the 23rd Psalm on my refrigerator. It is one of the first psalms I learned as a child.
    How comforting to know that He is our Shepherd, Protector, Leader and
    Savior!
    I love the picture you have posted at the end.
    Your account of the trial and crucifixion is described so well, true to the Gospel story. Good thought-provokers for Holy Week. Thank you. REW

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