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April 18, 2003

Good Friday

John 18:1-19:42

Dear friends, I invite you to enter into the solemn events of Good Friday, to be with Jesus as he suffers and dies on the cross, and to spend the day mindful of Christ's death and how he continues to suffer and die in the crucified peoples of the world, from Iraq to Palestine to Columbia to people on death row to the starving masses who are oppressed into an early death by the structures of injustice. I would like to make three points for your reflection about the passion account.

First, notice Jesus' last words to the church. They all run away from him, so this is the last time he is with his friends, the community, in the Garden of Gethsemane, where he is betrayed and arrested. Peter takes out a sword and chops off the ear of the high priest's slave, and then Jesus says the last words he ever said to the community, to the church, before he died: "Put your sword back."

We are not allowed to take up the sword ever again. We are not allowed to kill, to use violence to defend our Lord or anyone. If there ever was a time when we could kill or were justified in the use of violence or war, it is here, to protect our guy, to defend our Lord Jesus, but he says, "No, that is not our way. That is not my way. Put away your sword, your guns, your violence, your bombs. We are people of the cross, people of nonviolence."

Second, notice when he is on trial, he is generally silent, because in John's account, the ones who are really on trial are the authorities, the crowds, and the rest of us, Jesus is the real judge, but finally Jesus does speak up to Pilate and what he says is so important, "My kingdom is not of this world." Ok, so what is the difference between his kingdom and the world? He says there is one big difference. "If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would be fighting and killing and using violence to protect me and save me, just like all the nations of the world who use violence and war. But my kingdom is not like that. It is a kingdom of nonviolence, love, compassion, suffering redemptive goodwill. In my kingdom, violence is not allowed. In my kingdom, people listen to the truth. We suffer and die in love for one another." So we are a people of God's kingdom of nonviolence, of our king the nonviolent Jesus, people who listen to the truth.

Finally, notice that Jesus practices what he preaches and dies loving and forgiving, not yelling and screaming in anger, but in perfect nonviolence. Jesus went to Jerusalem and confronted injustice and suffered the consequences of his actions. He was executed by the Roman empire, a victim of the death penalty. The cross was their form of legal capital punishment. But because Jesus responds with perfect love, forgiveness and nonviolence, he transforms the whole situation and redeems the whole world.

Jesus confronts the ultimate problems of suffering, injustice, violence and death, by entering them, and he conquers suffering, injustice, violence and death by undergoing suffering, injustice, violence and death with perfect love and forgiveness.

So on Good Friday, Jesus teaches us not how to hate, how to hurt one another, or how to kill, but how to live, how to love, how to pray, how to serve, how to forgive and how to die.

The cross teaches us not to inflict suffering on others, but to be willing to undergo suffering for the sake of others without the desire to retaliate; not to put others on the cross but to be willing to undergo the cross for the sake of others; not to kill people but to be willing to be killed, to be martyred, for the sake of humanity, for love, justice and peace, like all the saints and martyrs.

As followers of Jesus, we are people who give our lives for others, for God's reign, for suffering humanity, for the crucified peoples of the world. We share in his nonviolent, redemptive, suffering love. From now on, we are Good Friday people, people of the cross.

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