Good Friday (4/10/2020)


John 18:1-11

Sword, Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” (v.11).

We are in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus’ Passion begins. St. John will conclude the Passion in another garden, the place of Jesus’ burial (19:41, 42). What are we make of these florid places relating to Jesus’ death and Resurrection?

First, let’s observe that in Holy Week and Easter season, Hollywood releases its latest Bible movie; “The Ten Commandments”, “The Greatest Story Ever Told”, “The Robe”, “Ben-Hur”, “Jesus of Nazareth”, “The Last Temptation of Christ”, “The Passion of The Christ”, and “Killing Jesus” spring to mind. Film makers find in the Bible rich a source of drama, pathos, story, speculation, tragedy and romance sure to ring the cash register.

But Scripture as entertainment is problematic. Such films always misrepresent the Christian faith, stripping Jesus of his theological significance, at best offering-up a diluted Christian faith or at worst “a different gospel and another Jesus” (2 Cor. 11:4). One author claims an “historical account” of killing philosopher and all-around good man hardly distinguishable from Socrates.

While Scripture of itself is engaging, the (liturgical) Reader will observe what is imparted is done in straightforward, matter of fact fashion. There are no gratuitous attempts to embellish or excite emotions. This is obvious if one compares today’s “Passion Reading” with graphic movie visuals of scourging and crucifixion. God’s word never intends an “enthusiast” religiosity or feelings of pity for Jesus; rather pity is better reserved for those who reject Jesus’ obedient and willing sacrifice.

Scripture is of the church; she is neither interested in a critical quest with Albert Schweitzer for “The Historical Jesus” nor in discerning the “philosophy” of Jesus. Rather the church occupies herself with his identity and significance to which all Scripture witnesses, being the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Jesus out of heaven, born, crucified, and raised is the lens through which all history, that will someday come to conclusion, must be comprehended.

Returning to Gethsemane we ask, what Christological significance do we take from St. John’s garden markers that bracket Jesus’ suffering, crucifixion, and death?

Scripture is semantically connected, i.e., by its words, grammar, and context, Scripture is its own interpreter. Today’s garden markers give us pause to reflect back, to Eden. Man and woman were apex of the first creation; Adam was given to tend and guard the Garden (Gen. 2:15); a caretaker in the place where man worshipped in communion with God.

But by sin Adam, proved himself no longer true man or son, and so disqualified as Garden tender; disobedience had marred his “image and likeness” of the Creator. God’s first gospel was, the promise of a Seed who would crush the serpent Adversary (3:15), whose heal would be bruised; connoting God’s plan for restoration by a new creation and locus for relations with mankind.

Thus, Gethsemane begins Jesus’ passion leading to the crushing and bruising place, the cross; his death to burial in Golgotha’s garden into which Jesus would fall (Jn. 12:24) and rise the third day.

Jesus is new Adam, and new Temple; whose body in the Resurrection is God’s dwelling place with men. His scored body and heart a fertile new Garden bursting with the stuff of Life, word and sacrament to make men as intended, like himself, to be fruitful in multiplication.

Jesus is also the Gardener in his Garden utterly giving himself to be its source of watering and nourishment in the HS. We the baptized congregation are his help-mates, joining him in keeping and guarding the Garden to produce a single Eucharistic loaf offered before the Father. The subtle irony of Easter morning must not be lost that Mary Magdalene thinks Jesus the “gardener” of Golgotha's garden (20:15).

Like Simon Peter we get out ahead of Jesus. At Gethsemane Peter stepped away from the Jesus’ intention to do his Father’s will. Like Peter we think our “good” intentions are “helpful” in advancing God’s new Garden; but more often, we hinder. Salvation is of Christ alone.

When the church employs the sword forged by men, Jesus may intervene through one corrective or another, as in today’s Reading. Jesus restored the lopped-off ear of Malchus, that on another day he might hear with a “right ear” both the Voice and Sword of the Spirit for conversion and salvation.

Whatever militancy is given the church’s 144,000, we understand that it is the Lord alone, “mighty in strength”, whose victory at the cross we trust for all. Rather, it is our part in battle to put on the whole defensive armor of God (Eph. 6:10-17) and follow our Captain, though naked on the cross, was in that manner God’s promised and triumphant serpent Crusher.

The church is taught the ways of her Lord that we might conduct ourselves in Christ’s likeness and mind toward God. Jesus on the cross, in the crucible of suffering, learned a true Sonship’s obedience, perfecting him for his vocation (Heb. 5:8) for keeping and guarding God’s resident Garden from the Adversary.

On the cross Christ was beaten to a plowshare for furrowing hard hearts; for our forgiveness he received a soldier’s spear, pruning the flesh of his heart to water and nourish his Garden where warfare with God is ended (Isa. 2:3, 4). Amen.

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