29.3.13 – Good Friday Meditation – Peter Cheyne

The following was used after worship in the other three Mornington churches that had been based around readings from Matthew 27 (vv.1-2, 11-26; vv.27-44; vv.45-56.)

The final reading, preceding this meditation was Matthew 27:57-65.

After all the events of this day, it was now quiet.

The crowds had stopped its mocking and gone home. They had seen Jesus die. The carnival was over. No point making fun of a dead body. It was fun while it lasted. This Jesus who claimed to be the Messiah had now proved otherwise. Messiahs don’t die as common criminals. Where were the rescuing angels? Had he been the Messiah, he wouldn’t have got Himself into this mess in the first place.

The Messiah would have delivered of Israel. He would not have challenged and offended the institutions so central to their identity. The Messiah would not have stirred up trouble like this man had.

Some felt embarrassed that they had been fooled temporarily. They had followed him and been fascinated by the miracles. Well, maybe not “miracles”. There must be some other explanation. He was certainly clever but they must have been tricks of some sort.

Anyway, he was dead now, and that proved he wasn’t the Messiah. They had seen him breathe His last breath. The soldiers had broken the legs of the other two criminals but not His. No need. He was already dead. The spear in his side took care of that.

It had been the same with other pretenders to Messiahship. All of them charlatans. None of them able to live up to their claims, including this man. Rebuild the temple in three days! Come in triumph in God’s glory! Huh! Look at Him now – limp, lifeless, defeated body.

Mind you the three hours of darkness, and the earthquake just at the moment he died were pretty freaky. That made you wondering. But then all was quiet again.

His disciples too had stood watching, maybe even hoping to the end that He wouldn’t die; that he would come down from the cross, but He did die. There was nothing glorious about their friend now. He had bucked the system but the system had won. Now the ignominy of crucifixion robbed him of any majesty he might have had. No one looks valiant hanging on a Roman cross.

It was a scene of defeat, degradation and death. Flies gathered on his open wounds. He who had promised life, was dead. Life had been taken from him. He was a slumped mass of tortured flesh, bones, and blood.

People laughed, congratulated themselves on not being fooled by this imposter and turned to go home.

His disciples continued to hope that something might happen. He had seemed so different from any other person they had known, and, in every way, better than any other person they had known. He had lived compassion and servanthood. He had answered his enemies with such wisdom and silenced them. He seemed so much like… like a Messiah. Until this Passover.

Only five days ago, this crowd that seemed so sure of itself in rejecting him, had welcomed him as the nation’s king. It looked then as if His whole mission was coming to its climax. The King had come! They could barely believe that victory had turned to defeat so quickly and so completely.

Now His enemies had silenced him.

What were his disciples to do now? Go back fishing as if nothing had happened?

What alternative was there? His teaching had been amazing. But where was the Kingdom Jesus had promised? It simply hadn’t turned out as Jesus had foretold. In any case, how could they replicate his teaching with any authority?

It had seemed that he was grooming them for something more, but now what? For all their hopes, nothing was as final as a bloodied corpse on a cross.

Now it was silent save only for the occasional comment of bored soldiers and the hum of flies.

They felt bad about walking away and leaving his body there. Several of them hesitated. Surely they couldn’t just leave their friend hanging there alone. But what else could they do. The body had been put in the charge of the Roman soldiers. And anyway, what danger might they put themselves in if they identified with Jesus now?

Some of the women decided that the least they could do would be to follow the body, see where it was buried and maybe tend to it later. As the men drifted away, some women stayed.

The body stayed pinned to the cross as the day came to an end. The soldiers had done their job. Before sunset they took all three down. There was no ceremony, no respect. They were treated roughly – bits of meat.

But then two men approached with a letter. The women recognised one at least. He was Nicodemus. Everybody knew Nicodemus. He was a member of the Sanhedrin – one of Israel’s leaders. The other man they had seen before. He had been in the crowds on a number of occasions and had had some private time with Jesus at one point. Some thought his name might have been Joseph.

He had certainly been very interested in Jesus but what did he want now?

The centurion read the letter. He nodded, then spoke to the soldiers dealing with the body of Jesus and they stood back from their task. Joseph and Nicodemus thanked him, acknowledged the soldiers and knelt beside Jesus’ body. It had been dumped, distorted. They lay it out flat.

They knelt beside him. Their heads were bowed. Some of the women thought they heard crying. They did not know why these men would have been given access to Jesus’ body; what they planned to do with it; why they even cared. Did they care or was something else going on? The women continued to watch.

Eventually the two gently wrapped the body, picked it up and moved off, carrying it between them. The women followed.

The men obviously knew where they were going – at least, Joseph did. He went directly to a new garden tomb. They went inside. A little later they emerged, heads bowed, silent. With a huge effort and using strong logs as leavers, they rolled a great stone over the entrance to the tomb. It dropped into place. They checked that it was totally secure then, stepped back, paused, as if paying their last respects, then turned and left the garden.

It was now quite dark. That rock marked the finality of it all. The immovability of the rock reinforced the reality of the death. This was it. Even the women must now walk away and leave Jesus. Would they ever get to anoint his body? Maybe not. They might try but it didn’t look hopeful. They too turned and walked away.

All was silent. In the garden it was silent. In the handful of places where the disciples sat, it was silent. In most of Jerusalem it was silent. Even those who had rejoiced in Jesus’ death, wondered about the events of that day. He had been quite different; and there had been that darkness and the earthquake.

The Jewish leaders felt relieved. They couldn’t possibly have allowed that man to carry on. For a while they cracked hardy and celebrated noisily but even that had given way to silent reflection. And some had heard that one of their number had requested Jesus’ body. Nicodemus. Nicodemus who had half-heartedly defended Jesus in the trial. They respected Nicodemus but was he a traitor? Was it not all over?

Come to think of it, there had been noises about this man rising from the dead. What might his followers do next? What if they claimed He had risen?

Well, of course, the Pharisees would demand to see him; they would demand proof. Alternatively, they would simply produce the body. That would finish any rumours of a resurrection.

But what if the disciples stole the body? Imagine rumours of a resurrected Jesus. That must never happen. Surely no Jew would steal a body on the Sabbath but, just to make sure, they would visit Pilate in the morning and request the tomb be sealed and an armed guard be deployed. That would finish the whole thing completely.

With that settled in their minds, the Pharisees felt the relief of a job well done. This Jesus would be not even a footnote in history. And they could continue leading their people, untroubled by such nonsense.

For everyone – it… was… finished!

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