Six short Good Friday reflections on the sounds that punctuate Christ's Passion (based on John 18 and 19).
1) The sound of a voice shot through with eternity
When Jesus said to them, ‘I am he’, they stepped back and fell to the ground.
And how could they not? The sound of this I am bursts forth from Jesus’ mouth and brings with it the weight and majesty and power of God’s presence throughout history. From the holy ground on which Moses stood as he was gifted the name of God as sign of the mighty acts of liberation about to be accomplished to Jesus on the precipice of his glorification, this voice of hope, and power, and holy presence rides the waves of eternity and history and fells all who would stand in its way. The sound of this voice is the sound of God bringing the Red Sea down on Pharaoh’s chariots, this is the one they have come for, this is Jesus of Nazareth, the eternal I am of God… this is the one who is to be crucified.
2) The sound of a new day sung into being
… at that moment the cock crowed.
Whether it is the crow of the rooster or the laugh of the Kookaburra, birds of God call into being a new day. Their morning call announcing the coming light echoes the voice of God at creation. Heralds to the ongoing creation of this world by God, the unfolding gift of this world from God, to the blossoming of the new and possible within this good and sufficient world. And yet, on this day, this rooster’s morning song, its eternal witness to the breaking of dawn, is tinged with the denial of the one through whom the world came into being. The Eternal Word, present from the beginning, present within that first call for light, present at each an every echo of that call in each and every bird song, crow, and laugh, is in this moment denied. Is in this moment betrayed. The sound of the new day here is a song of anti-creation, is a witness to anti-life, is a herald of ruptured presence… no surprise that on this day – when the echo of first light is so distorted – the sun will forebear to shine.
3) The sound of the first ‘Barabbas’
They shouted in reply, ‘Not this man, but Barabbas!’
Crowds do not speak in unison; they do not share a mind. People get swept up, they may follow, they may get carried away, and when enough of the people are so carried they can become a crowd with a somewhat shared mind, but that is not how they begin, that is not how they are birthed. And so the question is, who was the first one to say ‘Barabbas’? Who was the first to offer this name as an alternative, a possibility? Who let this name loose from their lips, and how did they do so? A whisper, a shout, murmured to a friend, declared to Pilate, pleaded before God? Did they do so merely as a strategy to keep from seeing Jesus released, or perhaps they had more earnest motives to see a friend given clemency? And then the question is, who said it second, and third, and fourth, until the sound of this name rolled around with such swelling energy that it became a chant, until it unified voice and mind, until they became a crowd? Until this voice ceased to be about a person at all, and became solely a sound in a crowd determined to cast Jesus from their midst.
4) The sound of no response
Pilate again asked Jesus ‘Where are you from?’ But Jesus gave him no answer.
How could he answer such a question? What could he say that would come even remotely close to what is true? From Nazareth? From Mary? From the line of David? From the Father? Truly, this man is from all those places, but it is a half-picture. For in truth, all things are from him – all things are through him – all things are for him. A tree we can ask where it is from, but the ground which holds it up, which nourishes its roots, and to which it will fall and be absorbed… this thing is not from a place or time, but is a place and time – it is life. The Eternal Word is not and cannot be from, the silence that is Jesus’ response testifies to the truth that he was and is before and beyond from, before and beyond the first word spoken, the first name named, the first place claimed – it is from him and to him and through him and for him all things relate… and yet, this will not be said, this will not be enforced, this will not be decreed, this will not be militarised. Instead it is the one from whom who will be marched, led, dragged, and pinned upon that cross, hung on a tree, elevated high above the ground that he gave life.
5) The sound of new body
He said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’
In the tender sound of his words Jesus weaves together a new family. One not bound by blood or name but by fidelity to his way and love and provision for one another – this is the tender voice that forms the church. As Jesus’ own body heaves, and writhes, and breaks – his words to the disciple and his mother form his body anew. The body of Christ beaten and glorified and dying upon that cross draws all peoples to himself and makes of them a family that now precedes and supersedes all familial, societal, economic and national bonds. A family, a body, a being together that claims our first allegiance as it offers us a place in which we can always know our meaning and comfort and hope and home.
6) The sound of an attended body
They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews.
I imagine the men worked in silence. They knew the custom of their people well; they had attended to bodies in this way before. They would not need to ask for something to be passed, or lifted, or turned. Their movement and manoeuvring of his body would be deliberate but delicate, demonstration of their care, tenderness, reverence, and heartbreak. The sounds of cloth and spice and touch and of a body being laid on the ground would be all that would punctuate the bewildering, grief-filled silence of their work. And then they would leave. They would walk away from this crucified man, from this Jesus of Nazareth so full of life and hope now lying in a tomb, in a garden, wrapped in the custom of his people. Another dead Jew murdered by imperial Rome. Another hoped for deliverer extinguished before the world was transformed. Another teacher of their law buried before the Promised Land is reached. Words fail. Grief abounds. Who was this man they hung upon a cross? And what is to become of us now?
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