Mormon Lectionary Project: Good Friday

MLP

MLP

Mormon Lectionary Project

Good Friday

Isaiah 52:13-15; 53:1-12 (KJV), Psalm 22 (KJV), Hebrews 10:15-25 (NRSV), John 18 & 19 (KJV), Mosiah 3:9, 3 Nephi 8

The Collect: God the Eternal Father, we ask Thee in the name of Thy Son, Jesus Christ, to strengthen our resolve as we contemplate the suffering and voluntary sacrifice of Thy Son and seek to emulate the loyalty of Thy Servant Simon Peter in the Garden but without violence or aggression, seeking healing and peace rather than confrontation and conflict as we hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering, through the grace of Thy Son and His Atonement in Gethsemane and on Calvary, who now lives and reigns with Thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Jesus’ Trial Before the Sanhedrin (John 18:19-27, Mark 14:53-65, Matt. 26:57-67, Luke 22:63-71), The Passion of the Christ (2004)[1]

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The story of Christ’s passion recorded in John 18 and 19 makes for riveting though heart-wrenching reading, especially on Good Friday. In the Garden, Jesus’ Apostles both betray (John 18:4-5) and loyally defend him (John 18:10). Peter’s act of defiant loyalty in drawing his sword and striking off the ear of the High Priest’s servant Malchus captured the imagination of the author of the Heliand, the Old Saxon cultural translation/paraphrase of the Gospels dating to around 800-850 A.D. In his attempt to make Christianity culturally palatable to the Saxons, the author went so far as to make this event a central aspect of the Passion narrative in Song 58, “Christ the chieftain is captured; Peter, the mighty swordsman, defends him boldly”:

Christ’s warrior companions . . . saw warriors coming up the mountain making a great din, angry armed men. Judas the hate filled man was showing them the way. . . .

The warriors marched forward . . . until they had come to the Christ. There he stood with His followers, the famous chieftain. He was awaiting the workings of fate, the glorious time. Judas, the man without loyalty, went up to Him, bowed his head to God’s Child, and spoke to his Lord. He kissed the mighty One, keeping his word, and indicated Christ to the warriors just as he had said earlier in his words. . . .

As the rescuing Christ told them in soothsaying that He was the one, the Jewish people became frightened; they were so terrified that they instantly fell backwards and everyone of them was on the ground. The army of warriors pulled back in retreat — they could not stand up to the Word, the voice, of God. But there were some real fighting men among them who ran back up the hill, strengthened their resolve, controlled their inner feelings, and went raging forward in hatred until they had Christ the Rescuer surrounded with their men.

Christ’s followers, wise men deeply distressed by this hostile action, held their position in front. They spoke to their chieftain. “My Lord chieftain,” they said, “if it should now be Your will that we be impaled here under spear-points, wounded by their weapons, then nothing would be as good to us as to die here, pale from mortal wounds, for our Chieftain.”

Then Simon Peter, the mighty, the noble swordsman flew into a rage; his mind was in such turmoil he could not speak a single word. His heart became intensely bitter because they wanted to tie up his Lord there. So he strode over angrily, that very daring Thane, to stand in front of his Commander, right in front of his Lord. No doubting in his mind, no fearful hesitation in his chest, he drew his blade and struck straight ahead at the first man of the enemy with all the strength in his hands, so that Malchus was cut and wounded on the right side by the sword! His ear was chopped off, he was so badly wounded in the head that his cheek and ear burst open with the mortal wound! Blood gushed out, pouring from the wound! The cheek of the enemy’s first man had been cut open. The men stood back; they were afraid of the slash of the sword.[2]

As in the Gospels, in the Heliand Jesus both admonishes Peter against using the sword and heals the wounded man. Jesus says to Peter, “We are not to become enraged or wrathful against their violence, since whoever is eager and willing to practice the weapon’s hatred, cruel spear-fighting, is often killed himself by the edge of the sword and dies dripping in his own blood” (ibid., 161). The text next reports that Jesus “then went up to the wounded man and skillfully put the parts of his body back together, his headwounds, so that the sword-slash was quickly healed” (ibid.).

Fra Angelico, The Capture of Christ, c. 1440 (fresco panel in the Dominican Monastery of St. Mark in Florence depicting Judas' kiss and Peter striking off Malchus' ear) (source: http://tinyurl.com/kjr9dkm)

Fra Angelico, The Capture of Christ, c. 1440 (fresco panel in the Dominican Monastery of St. Mark in Florence depicting Judas’ kiss and Peter striking off Malchus’ ear) (source: http://tinyurl.com/kjr9dkm)

The Old Saxon tale is paraphrased from the four Gospels. In John 18 Jesus said to Peter “Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” (John 18:11). And, of course, Luke records that Jesus healed the man’s wound (Luke 22:51). Matthew 26 reports Jesus as having responded to Peter’s violent defense by saying,

52 Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.

53 Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?

54 But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be? (Matthew 26:52-54.)

That Jesus speaks of fulfilling scripture at this central juncture is significant. His response recorded in John — that “the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” — also refers to this scriptural background, recorded throughout the centuries as the collected law, prophets, wisdom, statutes and judgments in the Old Testament. In fact, Pope Benedict XVI identifies this self-referential allusion to “the scriptures” as a central aspect of the Passion of the Christ itself: “what previously had been merely word [the scriptures in the Old Testament] — often beyond our capacity to understand — now becomes reality, its meaning unlocked.”[3] The event of Christ’ Passion, for believers, “paved the way toward a fresh understanding of Scripture” (ibid. at 203). “This discovery of the harmony between word [Scriptures] and event [the Passion of Christ] not only determines the structure of the Passion narratives and the Gospels in general: it is constitutive of the Christian faith” (ibid.). Of the “great many Old Testament allusions” that “are woven into the Passion narrative,” two of the most fundamental include Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 “because they span, as it were, the whole of the Passion event and shed light upon it theologically” (ibid. at 204).

We immediately feel the despair and urgency of Christ’s own plea to the Father during the Passion in the first verse of Psalm 22 — “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?” Psalm 22 then ranges from mockery directed at the faithful and the faithfuls’ desperate cry for relief to a trusting posture toward God and on to allusions to the Eucharist itself and the universal salvation offered by the Gospel to all peoples of the earth. (ibid. at 204-5).

We stand in awe of Isaiah’s prescience in outlining the Passion of our Lord so exactly in all twelve verses of Isaiah 53 (as we can see it now with the Christian hindsight discussed by Pope Benedict XVI, as provided by the Passion itself, bringing event and word together for a new and clear understanding). Reading that chapter, or listening to it as set to music in Handel’s Messiah, “we can relive the early Christians’ astonishment on seeing how one step after another of the path of Jesus Christ is foretold there” (ibid. at 206).

4 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.

5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. (Isaiah 53:4-7.)

Reading this prophecy and reflecting upon it through the lens of the Passion, as Christians are privileged to do by virtue of the events of Good Friday nearly 2,000 years ago, the Spirit truly witnesses to us that the Lord “will put [his] laws into [our] hearts, and in [our] minds will [he] write them” (Hebrews 10:16). Perceiving this whispering of the Spirit, through the clearer understanding of the Scriptures available through the Passion of the Christ, we resolve with the author of Hebrews, “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised)” (Hebrews 10:23).

The Book of Mormon prophecies strengthen this faith that we profess, without wavering, in further emphasizing that Jesus “cometh unto his own, that salvation might come unto the children of men even through faith on his name; and even after all this they shall consider him a man, and say that he hath a devil, and shall scourge him, and shall crucify him” (Mosiah 3:9). Because of this knowledge, which occurred as prophesied, we can “draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:22). In so doing, we may always carry his light with us, a light to dispel the heavy darkness covering the world — a darkness felt acutely by the people described in The Book of Mormon who experienced three days’ of such thick darkness upon the crucifixion of Christ that they “could feel the vapor of darkness” and were prevented from even lighting fires (3 Nephi 8:19-23).

May our Good Friday contemplation of the Passion of the Christ and our Easter celebrations help us maintain Christ’s light in our lives, ever dispelling this thick, vaporous darkness! Honoring His atoning sacrifice, we choose to “hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering” (Hebrews 10:23). Let us therefore emulate the brave and noble loyalty displayed by Peter to the Savior in the Garden of Gethsemane (especially in the Saxon gloss, “no doubting in [our] mind, no fearful hesitation in [our] chest”!) but in so doing also sheath our proverbial swords, always mindful of Christ’s wisdom, as recorded in Matthew, that “for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword” (Matthew 26:52).

* * *

Handel, Messiah, “Surely He Has Borne Our Grief”

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[1] Viewers should be aware of significant controversy surrounding Mel Gibson’s 2004 film The Passion of the Christ considering whether the film portrays Jews in a classically anti-Semitic way. (See this summary of the issue: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Passion_of_the_Christ#Allegations_of_antisemitism). The existence of this controversy gave me serious pause in whether to include this clip of Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin because I take this issue of potential anti-Semitism very seriously. However, after considerable reflection about the accusations of anti-Semitism, I believe that at this time I tend to agree with those, including notable orthodox Jewish Rabbis and other Jewish and Christian commentators, who do not find the film to be anti-Semitic. For instance, in this portrayal of the trial before the Sanhedrin, which I actually find extremely faithful to the New Testament, several members of the Sanhedrin object to the fairness of the proceedings and are thrown out. Also, although the film depicts certain Jewish leaders conspiring to kill Jesus (cf., e.g. Matt. 26:4) and pushing this forward by all means, including currying favor with Pilate, these details come straight from the New Testament. As far as I can tell, the film does not portray or promote any kind of blanket condemnation of Jews or stereotypes similar to those that have informed historical Christian anti-Semitism. And the film portrays many Jews in sympathetic or even heroic light.

[2] Translation by G. Ronald Murphy in The Heliand: The Saxon Gospel, Oxford University Press (1992), pp. 158-61. (See also http://bedejournal.blogspot.com/2009/08/saxon-saviour.html for some delightful further context.) I have long been fascinated by the Heliand and have previously posted a lengthy excerpt from its paraphrase or cultural translation into Old Saxon (in Murphy’s excellent English translation) of the Christmas story at ABEV (http://abev.wordpress.com/2004/12/25/merry-christmas/).

[3] Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection, Ignatius Press, San Francisco (2011), 202.

Comments

  1. Jason K. says:

    Thanks for this, John, and especially for sharing that fascinating Saxon gloss. To have a text both addressed to and set in a warrior culture speak against violence is remarkable. Most powerful, though, is your concluding call to honor the Atonement.

  2. JBF,
    You are a real treasure.

  3. Happy that you have not succumbed to the lazy hatred of Mel Gibson’s film. It’s a remarkable movie and does a really great job situating the Passion as part of Jesus’ wider Gospel (e.g. the flashback of “love your enemies” as he is nailed to the cross).

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