You can listen to the Passion according to John and my sermon (starting at about 15:00) here. Or, read on.
Gegrapha, Gegrapha. “What I have written, I have written.” Pilate responds to the protests of the chief priests with two words that signify his power and authority in a story that is all about power and authority. That’s what this whole week, this Holy Week, has been about: power and authority.
On Palm Sunday, Jesus came riding into the holy city, the royal city, David’s city, Jerusalem, in a procession that mirrored and mocked the procession of Pilate. Pilate rode a white, war horse. Jesus rode an unbroken donkey. Pilate had thousands of the world’s finest soldiers. Jesus had a rag tag group of former lepers, blind beggars, bleeding women, and crippled men. Pilate entered to shouts of “Hosanna! Blessed is the Peace of Rome! Long live Caesar, the Son of God!” Jesus entered to shouts of “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Long live the King of Israel!”
On Monday, Jesus turned the Temple upside down. He flipped tables. He poured out money. He called the whole system a “den of thieves.” On Tuesday, Jesus took the question of his authority and flipped it upside down, bringing the chief priest, scribes, and elders under question themselves. On Wednesday, while at dinner with Simon the leper, Jesus was anointed, by an unnamed woman, as King and Messiah. Last night, we joined with the disciples and watched in shock and horror as this King of Kings took off his outer garments, got down on his hands and knees and washed the feet of his friends telling them that blessings come through love and service rather than
power and might.
This whole week, this Holy Week, has been all about authority, God’s turning the perception of authority right-side-up. It is, of course, no more apparent than in John’s version of the Passion story. Jesus is called “king” twelve times in this story. His kingdom is referenced three times. He is called the Son of God, once, and he takes on for himself the holy name of the God of the Passover, ego eimi, I am twice. The Chief Priests hand their authority over to Pilate, who has the power of Caesar at his disposal. For his part, Pilate hands most of his authority over to the crowd, going against his better judgment and sentencing Jesus to crucifixion. Yet in this moment, as Jesus hangs on the cross, with the inscription “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” above his head, Pilate makes clear that he is in control.
Gegrapha, Gerapha. “What I have written, I have written.” From the perspective of Rome, this man hanging on the cross is the King of the Jews, while the chief priests instead cried out “we have no king but Caesar.” This brings us to our moment of decision this Friday afternoon. Is this Friday just like any other Friday? Are we gathered here today for no real reason, remembering, for what it’s worth, one of thousands who were crucified by Rome? Is today a bad Friday? Are we here to mourn the death of God and the victory of selfishness, power and might? Or, is today a good Friday, the Good Friday. Have we gathered here, under the banner of God’s grace and authority to give thanks and praise for the victory of the King of the Jews whose death overcame death, who willingly laid down his life for his friends, who came to be served but to serve and who gave his life as a ransom for many?
Pilate, a weak-willed, mealy-mouthed, fence-sitter who hid behind the flag of Caesar, took a stand on who Jesus is, the King of the Jews. This Friday, this Good Friday, we are invited to take our stand, to side with God in grace, love, and service, and to remember that the King brought forth his Kingdom through the humiliation of the cross. Today is Good Friday. Jesus of Nazareth is King of the Jews. His authority is unlike that of the Chief Priests, Pilate, or the crowd. His authority comes from his Father who is in heaven, whose good and perfect plan is for the redemption of the whole world, and who invites us to join with him in the way of the cross, the way of life and peace. Thanks be to God.