A Word to Good Friday and Easter 2018
John 13:1 – “Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” This verse is part of the lectionary reading for Maundy Thursday. You may be reading these thoughts of mine after having heard this verse read in church.
Jesus knew his death was near. That is no small matter. The late distinguished British poet Philip Larkin wrote these lines about what it is like when a person contemplates the nearness of his or her death.
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.
The mind blinks at the glare…
…at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.
This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die…
Indeed, for some, religion is a “vast moth-eaten musical brocade created to pretend we never die.” Yet, it was not true of Jesus. Whatever else one thinks about Jesus, he was deeply religious; and still, Jesus never pretended he was not going to die. “Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father.”
Jesus never pretended that there would be no death, either for himself or for his disciples. He never avoided what the poem calls “Nothing more terrible, nothing more true.” And neither do we.
No one who has experienced the season of Lent in a Christian church can say that our religion is a “vast moth-eaten musical brocade created to pretend we never die”. Lent began with Ash Wednesday. This year, again, I walked the aisle single file to the
pastor who put the ashes on my forehead saying, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
Lent ends with Jesus’ suffering and death. “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”
Let me interject a brief note about that word “end.” It is a translation of the Greek word “telos”; “Telos” has the meaning of termination or conclusion, as in “the end of the work day.” But “telos” also may be used in the sense of an outcome, or goal, or purpose, as in the line from a Herman’s Hermits song, “the end of all my hopes, the end of all my dreams.” My sense is that “telos” here in John 13:1 has a bit of both meanings.
Just before this, in John 12:27 (a lectionary option for Passion Sunday), Jesus said, “My life is troubled.” (Most translations read “My soul is troubled,” but to be consistent in the use of the same Greek word that is translated “life” in verse 25 – “Those who love their life lose it” – I generally use “life” in verse 27.) “My life is troubled. And what should I say – ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.” Jesus speaks here of his purpose.
Jesus’ death – terrible and true – is the sacrificial death that he freely gave himself to, for our sake. His death destroys death. Death is true; but Jesus Christ is more true than death, because Jesus Christ has been raised from death. More true than the fate the poem fears: “not to be here, not to be anywhere.”
Those who experience the Festival of the Resurrection of Our Lord in a Christian church, having walked with Jesus through Lent, get to share a truth and joy beyond a “vast moth-eaten musical brocade created to pretend we never die”.
You are Jesus’ own. So in your coming worship, sing, sing, sing: both “Come to Calvary’s Holy Mountain” and “Jesus Christ is Risen Today.” Worship is the reason that we have come to this hour. For, “when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”