A Good Friday Meditation

Original water color by Cathie Horrell

Original water color by Cathie Horrell

He is led out of the garden, where he has gone with his disciples after they shared a Passover meal, not by angels with fiery swords, but by men armed with swords sharp enough to cut off a person’s ear. He has come to the garden to pray. While his disciples, full of Passover wine, sleep. For Jesus there is one more cup from which to drink.

At the meal he pours the wine into the cups and after he said the blessing everyone drank from their wine cups. Three cups of wine are blessed and the blessing cups drank from. Someone that night reads the story of the Hebrew’s peoples flight from Egypt. The story of how God saves. Then Jesus takes the unleavened bread from the bowl, the matzoh, breaks it in half, and shares with all present a piece of the same bread that sustained the Israelites as they made their long journey to the land of promise. At today’s Seder Supper, a piece of that bread is wrapped in linen and hidden away, for the children to go in search of after the supper ends. In a few days the women who have wrapped Jesus body in linen will go in search of him but find no one where his body had been lain, except once again the angel standing guard in the garden. This only after Jesus has given himself, broken like the Passover bread, shared now with the world, his life-blood spilled out upon the hard ground of Calvary for all to see.

Today we experience the deepest expression of self-giving, where Jesus of Nazareth continues to share with us the greatest and final Passover. The passage of the Son of God from life to death. And we understand what this offering in complete freedom and love means only as it stands in the midst of Jesus’ final meal and in his rising to new life in three days. We can only make sense of this day when we think of it in terms of his whole life, his words of care and concern for others, his healing, his teaching, his message, his work, his whole person. In his life and in his death he is the embodiment of God’s love and good will for us. We see the Father’s com-passion, the God who suffers with us, in Jesus’ Passion−the cross where we encounter God in the depths of his/our humanity.

That this God is no extra-terrestrial is nowhere more evident than today. This is the day called good because God shows us in no uncertain terms his willingness to suffer for all human kind, for every human person, for you and I. Today God in Jesus embraces every lost, lonely, suffering, unloved, betrayed, sick and dying human being. In this day’s death because we know he is risen we know that it is God who protects and sustains Jesus and ourselves, and truly becomes one with all human kind. Not in spite of human suffering, but in the midst of it. Today in Jesus on the cross the human and the sacred become bound irrevocably together. Today there is no longer any barrier or boundary between us and the God who comes to earth, to experience all we experience and joins, in the human and sacred Jesus, with us forever. We live now in the unfailing presence of Yahweh, the God who saves. In Yeshua of Nazareth, which means God saves, we know without a doubt his good will for us. The promise now to us is that in the face of any death, evil or  suffering, any ‘no’ to life, God’s ‘yes’ is greater. This is the only certainty of God’s will we can speak of. Today we glimpse the kingdom of God come in Jesus’ life and in his death because we know that in him the promise of eternal life is kept. Today is a Promise kept. And if we doubt that, we might hear the echo of the final words of scripture forming in the heart of Jesus today as he extends to us the unleaving bread of himself and the final blessing cup is passed on to us for us to partake.  For in Jesus God truly makes his home in us. And his name is God-with-us. He will wipe away all tears from (our) eyes; there will be no more death, and no more mourning or sadness. (Rev. 21:4)

 

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Servant and Savior

Last Supper

Jesus washing the feet of his disciples is one of the most touching scenes from his life. Here is Jesus, Lord, Savior, Messiah, the Christ, before these titles were placed upon him, on his knees washing the feet of his friends. He tells Peter in his exuberance that he is setting an example for them. Tonight our priests will wash the feet of their congregations. I must say having done this every year it is a rather odd experience. Somewhat uncomfortable as you are there in front of everyone having the leader of your church washing your feet. I have to wonder if this isn’t how Peter felt when he at first refused Jesus to wash his feet. But Jesus tells Peter he is setting an example so that they might copy what he has done for them.

Then Jesus was deeply disturbed because he knew that he was going to be betrayed by Judas. But after Judas leaves the room, Jesus speaks to his disciples one of the greatest talks of his life. (John 13:31-17:26) These four and half chapters of John’s gospel contains the whole meaning of Jesus’ life. Who he is. What he is about in his own words. All of what he meant when he begins the discourse with I am the Way: I am Truth and Life.

These are the words of transformation. These are the words that change the ordinary substance of our humanity into something sacred, into Christ. These are the words that feed us and sustain us. These are the words that change Jesus’ life into our own. These are the final words of man who has just risen from his knees before his friends, knows one of them will betray him, and then goes on to tell them that he loves them. That he will always be with them.  No matter what.

Here is an image we can take beyond the cross; here is the Savior of the world on his knees with a rag in his hand washing the dust of the road off his companions feet, preparing those who have traveled those dusty roads with him all this time, for something even more astounding. Through it all, the man who was reluctant to change the dirty water into wine at Cana, at his last meal, will hold up a cup of wine, and say I Am the life-blood, that he gives himself as the best wine saved for last, servant and savior, guest at the feast, bridegroom of the soul.

Water to Wine

Passover with Jesus and disciples

During the Greco-Roman feast of Dionysus stone vessels were filled with wine as a sign of the god’s ability to instill life. Many of these Greek and Roman rituals were taken and adapted into Christian rituals. At Cana Jesus replaces the jars of water with wine. According to John’s gospel Jesus is now the sole god who instills life. The large earthen jars at the wedding feast filled with water were there for washing. For ‘purification’, for the washing of guests who had traveled over the dusty roads and could wash hands and feet before they sat at the banquet table. This water was not drinkable. And because in those days there were no water purification systems – unless you got your water directly from a well, fed by one of the many springs that ran under the city – the meals were accompanies by mead, the precursor to our beer, and/or wine.

Jesus changing the undrinkable water into wine at the wedding feast at Cana is usually interpreted as one of Jesus’ first miracles. But Jesus’ reply to his mother, seems to indicate two things: that he wasn’t too concerned about the lack of wine and that whatever he saw his life to be about, it was not time to show himself. The man who becomes largely known for his miracles and healing doesn’t see himself as a miracle worker. I like what Michael Chabon says, and I paraphrase, faith bought by signs or miracles is bought very cheaply. Jesus seems to have no need to demonstrate or prove himself as a miracle worker in the ordinary sense of the being a magician. But John has told this story at the beginning of Jesus public ministry for a reason. And I don’t think it’s about proving Jesus was god by doing magic. For it seems that the real miracles Jesus performed were those of healing other. Those that helped others and brought about their well-being. A little wine more or less at a banquet would most likely not have been uppermost in his mind. Of course, the case could also be made that at his mother’s behest he provided what was best, even the best wine, for the bridal party. At the end, of life, of the current system, Jesus is bringing to us the best of what is life-giving. Himself.

One purpose of the wedding feast at Cana may have been to signal to those listening to the story that Jesus had come to change things. That transformations were coming. And these transformations would be life-giving. That Jesus, like his Father, was the god who brought life and could change it, purify it and that the quality and substance of life would be the best. Also notice, that in each of the gospels every scene is about change. Someone or something changes. Fishermen leave their trade, evil spirits are sent packing, people see and walk again, large shrubs grow from tiny seeds, a child comes back to life, water turns into wine. A man comes as guest at a wedding and later will liken himself to the bridegroom. A jar is broken and expensive oil from it becomes his anointing.

At the Passover meal which we celebrate tomorrow night, the jars of water will be there again. But at this final meal of Jesus and his disciples, unlike his first at Cana, the bridegroom will wash the feet of those he loves, and their lives will be changed forever.

A Wedding and A Passover

Passover with Jesus and disciples

Have you noticed that Jesus spends a good deal of his time in the gospels at meals with others? Meals have a significant meaning in Jesus’s life. The wedding feast at Cana, according to John’s gospel, is a prelude to his public life. Jesus story begins then and we know ends with a meal. One a wedding celebration where Jesus and his mother are present; the last where Jesus is at table with his disciples, sharing with them the Passover meal. These two meals, one where Jesus has gone to celebrate a wedding with his disciples, friends and family, and the last meal of his life, where he celebrates another transformative moment in the lives of himself and his friends. The wedding at Cana has become famous for Jesus turning water into wine. His first (recorded) miracle. One he seems reluctant to perform – when told by his mother (a not so subtle hint) that they have no wine – he replies with that enigmatic statement it is not yet my time.  But apparently his mother had every confidence he was a capable of because she then addresses the wine steward and tells him to do whatever Jesus says.

The Passover meal that Jesus celebrate with his disciples is a celebration of another sort. It is the remembrance of the time when the angel of death passed over the home first born Hebrew child, a prelude to the Exodus. So two meals, preludes to pivotal moments in Jesus’ life. For at the Passover meal Jesus will shortly become the Passover himself. He will be the first-born of the Father, who is raised back to life, effecting the greatest transformation one can make. From death to life is the preeminent Passover. One that is perhaps previewed in the wedding feast at Cana.

The water that Jesus changes into wine will become the water and blood that will flow from Jesus’ punctured side as he hangs on the cross. The soldier’s spear was meant to verify that Jesus was  indeed dead, and yet as it did show that in human terms Jesus had expired, the water and life-blood that drained from him, gave witness to the transformation that would take place in three days, with the ultimate wedding of human and sacred life when Jesus came forth from the tomb where he had been buried. In three days time the life-blood of Jesus would flow in him, the union of body and spirit now a living person, and thereby change the way a small cultic group of  his followers would grow into a world-wide movement, the Jesus movement, watered if you will, with his own life-spirit, which is now available to all of us in abundance.