The Rev. Diana L. Wilcox
Christ Church in Bloomfield & Glen Ridge
Church of the Annunciation Oradell
April 2, 2021
Gospel - John 18:1-19:42
May God’s words be spoken, may God’s words be heard. Amen.
Tonight we continue the service begun last night, that will end on Sunday. It is the Paschal Triduum, and as I mentioned last night at the beginning of the service, to make that much more clear to everyone, there is only one bulletin for all three-parts. You will also notice that there was no dismissal at the end of the service last night, nor will there be one tonight, for the service completes only on Easter and not before.
You may also have noticed a change in the language of the gospel reading tonight. While for many years now, we at Christ Church, have substituted Jewish leaders, temple authorities, etc. for what this fourth Gospel calls “the Jews,” this year we also added language that broadens the scope to Judeans generally. From a focus on a religion to a focus on a people. This is in response to a movement in the Episcopal Church “to remedy passages that use language that has been interpreted as anti-Semitic while maintaining the meaning and intent of the original Greek texts.”
The Greek word Ἰουδαῖος, is what is being challenged here, and its translation as “the Jews” over the centuries has led to anti-Semitic reactions, including the killing of Jews following the reading of the passion from the Gospel of John on Good Friday. “Academic publications in the last ten to fifteen years increasingly use the term Judeans rather than Jews. Most of these writers argue that "Judean" is a more precise and a more ethical translation of Ἰουδαῖος, than is "Jew.”
But it is more than an academic exercise, because the implications of our word choice has been damaging through the centuries, in other ways than the horrific murders of innocents. I remember a woman at a small parish I was serving saying to me “but Jews will not be saved, they killed Jesus!” We, as a people called to love and serve as Christ commanded, as we heard in our Maundy Thursday liturgy last night, must do better – we must stop raising up new generations of people who hear “the Jews” and think that they killed Jesus, while letting the tyrant Pilate, and the brutal Roman empire, who slaughtered thousands by crucifixion, off the hook because we choose to read this gospel on this most Holy night. We, all of humanity, are complicit in the crucifixion Jesus – then, and now – and not solely a people of the covenant – the chosen ones of God – our Jewish sisters and brothers. We must atone for our sins against them, and we will pray for them later in our Solemn Collects.
And now, let us turn our attention to another of the texts we heard this evening…
One of the things that I think resonates on this night of nights, are the first lines of Psalm 22, heard tonight chanted beautifully by our Director of Music, Bill Davies. We hear this also in the gospels of Matthew and Mark from the mouth of Jesus as he is crucified, part of what are called the seven last words (or really phrases) of Christ. It is what a Jewish man would know by heart – and the fully human part of Jesus – being a faithful Jew to the end – would understandably reach for in this painful and fateful hour.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
The psalmist continues “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? and are so far from my cry and from the words of my distress? O my God, I cry in the daytime, but you do not answer; by night as well, but I find no rest.”
How many of us resonate with these words through this long pandemic year? After we have experienced the pain of disease and death. After we have felt the isolation and loneliness of our collective seclusion from those we love, from our places of worship, from activities that nourish us spiritually. After we have borne witness to Christ’s crucifixion again and again in mass murders; violence against people because of their race, gender, or who they love; the inequality of healthcare; people put in cages on our border; and economic injustice that continues to oppress so many, and more.
This has been a long Holy Week year, and we are tired, worn, and if you find yourself crying out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” know that you are not alone. Know too that God has heard these very words from someone else – from God’s very son, and it is okay to speak them, to feel them, and to give them over to God.
We who wait at the foot of the cross this night, like the women who did not run, face the horror of what humanity can do, and we will also respond as Mary Magdalene and the other women did, for we are here this night. The women did not abandon Jesus, but openly stood by him in his final hour. That is what we have been doing, and will continue to do, every time we stand by those who are being crucified today, every time we courageously act as a voice for justice for those who have been silenced, every time we get out of bed when our hearts are broken by the pain of loss, isolation, and despair.
The story of this night, or of this long pandemic year, is not over, but one thing we know – those who were least expected to do these things – to be courageous, to offer love at a time of hate – they were the ones who came through. The women at the cross remind us all that even when others may discount us, even if we may discount ourselves, we are, by God’s grace, capable of acts of love beyond measure.
But there’s more… they returned after the Passover to anoint him.
How did they know where he was?
One of the often overlooked verses in this long story of Jesus’ last hours is that of an outsider Joseph of Arimathea. Yes, he was a man of means and power, a member of the Sanhedrin, for he would not have been able to approach Pilate for the body of Jesus otherwise. Yet it was a brave thing to do, to go ask for this “criminal’s” body of this tyrannical Governor. But more than that, Joseph was an outsider. He came to Jesus at night to try to understand who he was (night, in this gospel means, non-understanding, or an outsider). He was a seeker. Talk about someone really wanting to know “what is truth?” Pilate could have cared less, but Joseph risked his life to look for it. And then he did something more – he made room for Jesus.
He took the body and laid him in a tomb. And here’s where it gets interesting. The text says “Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of their faith. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.”
Who is “they?”
You know if it were men, they would be named, right? I think it was the women who aided Joe that night, or at the very least, they were among the “they” being mentioned here. That’s how they knew where his body had been laid. Still, the important thing about this part of the story is that Joseph had been one who came in the night seeking Jesus, seeking the truth. And when Jesus needed him, he made room for him. Joseph, the outsider, the seeker - he received Jesus, and made a place for him.
And here is why all of this matters to us now:
No matter how dark the world may seem, God has not forsaken us. We know that others will stand by us, as we will also do for them. And we know that no matter where we are in our relationship with Jesus, it is never too late to make room for him.
The power of this night is found not in the horror of crucifixion, but in the depth of God’s love – love willing to die on the cross, love willing to wait at the foot of the cross, love willing to make room for Christ.
So sit now in the darkness of this night, and let the pain of your heart, the pain of this year, wash over you. For this is God’s response to all who cry out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” God responds with love – love that says
“I have not forsaken you, but I am here with you.
I am here beside your loved one as they suffer in the hospital.
I am here beside you as you grieve.
I am here with you as you are beside others, caring for them in these difficult days.
I am here with you in your isolation and loneliness.
And I am here with you as you make room for me – for Jesus the crucified one – in your heart, and in the world.
I am here.
You are not alone.
You are not forsaken.
You are my beloved child.
 From the Diocese of Washington’s convention resolution that calls on The Episcopal Church to renew its study of the Holy Week lectionary.