Christianity 201

March 30, 2020

Transporting Yourself to the Crucifixion

It’s hard to believe that the observances of Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday (or what you might call Passion Week) are just days away. As this is published our world is in the middle of global crisis which is distracting us from the usual observances this time of year.

I’ve always wanted to include something of the writing of Gordon T. Smith, president of Ambrose University and Seminary in Calgary, Canada, and the author of a book I’m hoping to start soon, Evangelical, Sacramental, Pentecostal: Why The Church Should Be All Three (IVP).

I know I say this frequently, but especially today, because I’ve edited some of the scripture text, I urge you to read this one in full by click the title header which follows.

John 19: 1-42

Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they slapped him in the face...

The Jewish leaders insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”

When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”

Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”

From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.” …

Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.

So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.

Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: jesus of nazareth, the king of the jews. Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.”

Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”

Gordon T. Smith

On Good Friday, March 2019, my wife and I had the privilege of hearing the exquisite Calgary choral group—Luminous Voices—perform J.S.Bach’s, St. John Passion. It was choral music at its best. We had the English translation of the original German text, taken from Martin Luther’s translation of the New Testament. Most of what we heard was nothing other than the text of Scripture from the last part of John 18 through all of John 19, with some poetry and a sermon interspersed—all in song: the tenor sang the text from John’s Gospel, supported by arias from other soloists. I can hardly imagine a better way to end a day that began with worship in church.

The immersive experience of the music reminded me of the value of moving through the text of John 19 slowly, methodically; it was paced in a way that was both dramatic and thoughtful. From trial to the crucifixion to the death and then the burial of Jesus. Even though we were not yet at the account of the resurrection, the experience of being in John 19 was, and is, both tragic and triumphant. We know that death would defeat death; death would atone for our sins; death would lead to resurrection and on to the ascension and the outpouring of the gift of the Spirit on Pentecost.

The experience of moving slowly through John 19 is important. When we move, slowly, with Jesus to the cross and to His tomb: we consider, we reflect, we meditate on this account of the death of Jesus. And we feel the force of it—we know that this event matters and matters deeply to us and to the world. We slow down and take it in and let the account of Jesus’ death shape us. To use the language of Colossians 3:16, we let it dwell richly within us.

Some of us are familiar with the older Gospel song lyrics, “Were you there, when they crucified my Lord?”1 It is a melodramatic song that asks if you were at the trial, crucifixion, death and, burial of Jesus. And yet, however moving, I wonder if it is the right question. Because the answer, actually, is “No: I was not there; I am here – we are here, in this time and in this place.”

Reading John 19 is not about going back in history; it is not about nostalgia. The Hebrew notion of remembrance is not about going back in time; it is, rather, about allowing history—a past event—to be present! We remember, yes, not to go back, but in order to allow the past, in this case the cross of Christ, to shape and inform and transform our present. It is not that I want to be in Jerusalem when Jesus died; it is rather that I want the full force of what Jesus did on that Good Friday to shape my life, my relationships and my work and ministry. I want to walk through John 19 so that Romans 8:17 makes some sense to me—that in our sufferings we are joint heirs with him in his sufferings.

So, consider reading John 19 slowly, in a single sitting. You might not sing it; you might not hear a choral group perform the text. But in the quietness of your prayers, read it through slowly. And consider the ways in which the cross is so very present to you now, in the circumstances of your life, your relationships, and your work.


Prayer:

Jesus, we pray that You would open our eyes to the ways that the cross is present in our circumstances in life. We pray that the account of Your death will shape us and dwell richly within us. Amen.


1Were You There was likely composed by enslaved African-Americans in the 19th century. It was first published in William Eleazar Barton’s 1899 Old Plantation Hymns.

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