Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Will They Fit?

FOR OUR observation and study for Good Friday, we are reminded that in giving himself up unto death, our Lord delivered many who stood by watching. He also, by the power of the Holy Spirit… delivered eternal life to those who read and believe the legacy of his Word. These surely included pillars of the early church; and those who would come after them in believing that all who lived in sin had killed an innocent. Therefore, gathered in repentance with all… today we read from the gospel record…

So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called the place of a skull, which is called in Hebrew “Golgotha”. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side… and Jesus between them.
 Pilate also wrote a title and put it on the cross; it read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Many of the Jews read this title, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek.
 The chief priests of the Jews then said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”
 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus they took his garments and made four parts, one for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was without seam, woven from top to bottom; so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfil the scripture, “They parted my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” So the soldiers did this.
 But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.
 After this Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfil the scripture), “I thirst.” A bowl full of vinegar stood there; so they put a sponge full of the vinegar on hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the vinegar, he said, “It is finished”; and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:17-30)

Sinfully Scattered
John’s text is noted for its double meanings and symbolism. Using these favored literary devices, this reading from the Gospel According to Saint John pointed beyond the original horrid scene of our Lord’s crucifixion. The aim was to teach us and guide us. The text we study here, therefore, pointed to developments that were already occurring in the writer’s day, and still echo forward into our own time.
 Many fall into the shallowness of only reading this scripture on the surface, afraid to wade deeper into the text. We seem fearful that we may get too deep into holy waters… and thus drown in misinterpretations. However,we must take note that the described fulfillment of the Hebrew scripture described as accomplished by the soldiers, sets a precedent. The example allows us to do that very thing… look back on scripture and see the fulfillment and meaning beyond that day of Crucifixion. Therefore we may rightly risk by the power of the Holy Spirit, to read and glean what our Lord would have us know.
 Let us then focus on one particular occurrence in the text… the disposition of our Lord’s garments. John wrote that the clothing items were initially distributed four ways… one for each soldier. Does it not occur to us... that this numerically correlates with several items? Consider first that four is the exact number of gospel witnesses in the New Testament. Also, does it not remind the church that there are four directional corners of the earth… as now signified even by our the modern GPS compass services? Yes indeed!
 Consequently, I believe that this four-way correlation gives us pause to examine the text more closely. Jesus’ clothing, once wrapped around his earthy body, surrounded him like the group of disciples which had sheltered him in their very homes. The garments were divided four ways! Was it not then prophetic that his church would follow in the time of John symbolically. Is not the church thought to be the bearer of Christ. Are we not his clothing? Are we not called to be garments strewn across the earth by the breath of the Holy Spirit, supporting his message similar to the garments strewn on the road before him on Palm Sunday.?

Baptismal Garments
Note that our gospel writer also placed the baptismal cloak of Christian imagination upon us, as he further told us that the tunic Jesus wore could not be parted out. Remember, they had to cast dice for it in wholistic form! We also note the desired singular, monolithic character of the church, which would later cast dice to see who would replace Judas. The robe represents for us the collective identity of the baptized people of God.
 I repeat! The tunic could not be torn into parts. Thus, even though the world may try to rip the church to shreds, and within it schismatic powers often attempt to poke holes in the garment in order to justify making heretical pockets. Yet the cloak remains intact. We are reminded by the text then, that we who were baptized into the one, holy and apostolic church are united by the power of God, who is still working in the church through the Holy Spirit. We are therefore to collectively and rightly bear witness to our Lord’s deeds upon the cross. That is the message that we need to hear for this and every Good Friday observance.
 Indeed blessed ones, know this! Jesus, the Christ… washed the feet of his gathered disciples and was soon afterward arrested. His garments were taken from him in worldly ignorance, but now symbolize for us both the scattering of the church and the unity of its witness. This is the message that I consider is subtly placed before us by John's church, available to us as we approach scripture and the cross. We can rightly ask, therefore... “What is it that our Lord would say to us from that cross?” His answer surely was, and still is… “It is finished.” All that needed to be done for our salvation, he did. And now, walking clothed in the seamless baptismal gown of the church... we are called to witness concerning that great and wonderful deed. Thanks be to God.

 For those who have enjoyed this study:


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