The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John as well as this homily can be heard on the Saint Paul’s Website.
This whole week has revolved around one question, “Who is Jesus?” On Palm Sunday, we heard the crowd cry out to Jesus as the Son of David, the promised one who would restore the fortunes of Zion and set God’s people free from their bondage in place at the hand of Rome. On Tuesday, we heard the question of the Temple Authorities, “who do you think you are?” In his homily that evening, Father Keith reminded us that Jesus didn’t carry the proper credentials. There was no ordination certificate hanging on his office wall. His pedigree wasn’t proper; he was from the house of Judah not the house of Aaron. His authority to teach what he taught and do what he did was suspect. On Wednesday we heard of the unnamed woman from Bethany who anointed Jesus as king of her life using tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of nard as the disciples watched, horrified by their embarrassment. Even on Maundy Thursday, as Jesus and his disciples meet for one last supper, the question remains, “Who is Jesus?” He washes their feet like a slave, yet he offers commandments like a Rabbi, and calls himself Lord and even the Son of Man, the one promised in the prophecies of Daniel who will be sent by God to reign over his Kingdom forever. Who is Jesus? Is he a teacher? Is he a savior? Is he a king?
We get three very different answers in the Passion Narrative from John. To the religious leaders, Jesus is a blasphemer. His teaching is outside the bounds. He heals on the Sabbath. He cares for the outcasts. He hangs out with sinners. Jesus is arrested, tried, and convicted on the charge that he is a blasphemer, and so they take him to the only man in town who can mete out the death penalty. Pontius Pilate is the most powerful man in Israel. He was appointed by the Romans as Governor of Judea. Pilate knows nothing of the Jewish religion, and so he doesn’t see Jesus as a blasphemer. Pilate knows about Jesus thought. He’d heard of the parade, how he had entered Jerusalem riding on a Donkey, as people laid down palm branches and cried out to him. To Pilate, Jesus is the King of the Jews. The crown of thorns, the purple robe, the sign written in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew – everything about the crucifixion of Jesus points to the fact that for Pilate there is no question who Jesus is; the King of the Jews.
Pilate is close to having the right answer, but not quite. He’s focused on earthly titles, while Jesus transcends the politics of this world. The definitive answer to our question, “Who is Jesus” comes from the lips of Jesus himself. When Judas and the detachment of soldiers find Jesus in the Garden Jesus asks them who they are looking for. “Jesus of Nazareth,” they say. And Jesus responds, “Ego Eimi.” “I am.” And with those words, they all fall to the ground. Jesus has said the unsayable word, the tetragrammaton, the holy name of God given to Moses from the burning bush. Moses asks, “Who shall I say sent me to save the Hebrews from Egypt?” God replies, “I am.” Who is Jesus? Jesus is the great I Am. Jesus is the Holy One of Israel, the Lord Almighty. Jesus is God.
And now God is dead, hanging from a cross atop a trash heap outside of Jerusalem. Had Jesus been merely a blasphemous Rabbi, his death would have gone largely unnoticed. This Friday would be like any other if Rome had simply put to death a rival King. We gather on this Friday and call it Good precisely because Jesus was, and is, I Am. Words fail to comprehend the depth of God’s love which brought Jesus to the cross to die that we might have life. But there is God, hanging dead on a tree. It is Friday, and it is Good only and always because Jesus is God. Amen.