In 1999, my wife, Jeannie, and I took a trip to the Holy Land. We discovered that it is true that visiting the Holy Land changes the way you read the Bible. Indeed it does, including how you understand the events portrayed in today's reading.
Of all the passages that I now read in a new light, the one that stands out is the gap between the events of verses twenty-seven and twenty-eight in chapter eighteen of John’s Gospel. Tradition says that Jesus spent the night in Caiaphas’s house. He was tied with a rope and let down into a circular dungeon. (Without light or corners, prisoners would go insane more quickly.) Jesus spent the night in a cell designed to drive him crazy. We descended a stairway into that dungeon, and the experience turned out to be the most moving one of my trip.
The two chapters we read today are jam-packed with pain and suffering—too much to capture in a brief meditation on the main elements of the Good Friday story. Without minimizing any of these details, I only report that it was the dungeon in Caiaphas' house that moved me most. The darkness of that dungeon draped my soul in a momentary sense of the suffering Jesus might have endured there.
The movement from Thursday to Friday is absent in the text but not in the experience of Jesus. He had been betrayed, arrested, and denied. He would soon be mocked, beaten, and crucified. In our Christian experience, we can find ourselves alone and in seemingly unbearable suffering. In those times we can feel totally abandoned. But we are not because God is there.
Dear God, thank you for being with me when I cannot tell up from down. Amen.
The readings for Holy Week focus our attention on the sacrifice made by the Messiah. The prophecies in Isaiah speak of it. Psalm 22 tells of confidence in God even in the midst of betrayal and suffering like that experienced by Jesus. In First Corinthians Paul describes crucifixion as the center of our teaching as Christians. We follow these events through the eyes of the Gospel writer John. Jesus foreshadows his death in multiple ways, but even his closest followers struggle to understand and accept its meaning. Why would the Son of God experience such alienation and suffering? It is all for us, the ultimate work of love. But then he conquers the grave! Praise be to God!
Read John 13:21-32. When have you noticed darkness planting seeds of betrayal in your heart? How did you follow Jesus’ light?
Read John 13:1-17, 31b-35. What status symbols do you hold on to that keep you from following Jesus’ example of humble service?
Read Isaiah 52:13–53:12. On Good Friday, God enters into human suffering. When have you felt God’s presence in your suffering?
Read John 20:1-18. How has Christ found you?
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