Perhaps it isn’t so surprising, but when one reads aloud inside a church devoid of any other soul, and without any distractions [and I’m not referring to children who insist on praying out loud in full voice, or singing a tune unknown to the ear or to God for that matter], it’s as though the scripture one is reading is surprisingly fresh! Is it just me, or am I losing the plot, because when I proclaimed John’s ‘Passion and Death of Jesus’ (18:1 – 19:42) on Good Friday, with no other person present except God, there were phrases and maybe insignificant incidents in the gospel which until that moment, I had paid scant attention.
Here is just a small example. John was known to the High Priest, and after the arrest of Jesus at night, therefore in the dark, it was John who accompanied Jesus to the Palace of the High Priest, and it was John who went back to the palace gate, introduced Peter to the gate-watcher, who was a slave-girl who then allowed Peter into the Palace yard, and it was this girl who said to Peter, ‘I’ve seen you before, you’re a follower of that man aren’t you!’ ‘Certainly not’, said Peter, who then remained with her and some others who, to keep out the cold were warming themselves by a charcoal fire. A cameo of a scene of just a few seconds duration, and yet life is a litany of such cameos. Such scenes are a record of how humanity reacts to certain situations, and how one can brush aside the truth to save personal embarrassment.
Jesus, John, and Peter were in the Palace precincts! Where were the others who had celebrated the Passover Feast a couple of hours earlier, in a room with an atmosphere bursting with joy, hope, courage and optimism. Jesus had been welcomed into Jerusalem at the beginning of the week by a crowd verging on mass adulation, and now he was under arrest. Where were the crowds then! Often association is as skin deep as adulation; it depends on the moment.
Life is made up of such fleeting moments, but moments which remain in the memory, and are sign posts which measure the progress of one’s life. Peter would never forget that moment when he denied association with Christ, just as those who were at the foot of the cross would never forget the offering of Jesus’ life. All us of remember the death of a loved one, usually a parent, or a school friend, or someone we may not have known, but whom we admired. And yet there are deaths of people we have never met or known their names, but whose time of death we can recall. May I explain.
Between the ages of seven and a half and twelve, I was a student [a posh word and a questionable fact] at St Brendan’s College in Bristol which occupied a couple of buildings in Berkeley Square at the Top of Park Street opposite the Wills Building. The Educators were the Irish Christian Brothers, who had the difficult task of trying to knock some sense into boys who would have preferred either to be on the Sports Field [then at Westbury on Trym] or having a fag [cigarette] on Brandon Hill, or playing on the bomb sites, ideal play-grounds for adventurous youths. I mention those facts simply to put into perspective what life was like in the late 40’s and early 50’s of post-war Bristol.
We lived in North Bristol and I caught a bus every morning to the City Centre, which then meant a short walk up Park Street to school. On the journey to the Centre, the bus passed Horfield Jail [now renamed Bristol Prison] and the entrance to the jail was clearly visible from the main Gloucester Road as there was a Bus Stop conveniently situated opposite the road leading to the jail. Occasionally, on a Monday morning, [perhaps just a few times in 5 years] a small gathering of people could be seen outside the prison gates, and quite naturally we asked the grown-ups on the bus the reason for the small crowd. In a ‘matter-of-fact’ way we were told that someone was being hanged that morning. Apparently, executions took place at 8.00 am and the death was confirmed by about 8.30 when an official notice was pinned on the notice board outside the jail affirming that the execution had taken place.
Not once do I recall asking about the person being hanged, or why! As a child one accepted the fact and thought no more about it. Such occurrences didn’t affect the school day at all. The only reason for fear was the fact that one hadn’t done any homework! That was really serious. In all probability the story of the prisoner being hanged would have warranted perhaps a couple of column inches on one of the inside pages in the ‘Evening Post’. However, how many column inches would have been allocated to the person if he was seen alive in Bristol City centre a couple of days later? Not only would the story be front page news, but world- wide news. Bristol might have become as famous as Jerusalem!
The impact of the Resurrection of Jesus was world-wide news. It remains world-wide news. For those of us who believe in the resurrection of Jesus, it is an assurance of life after death, which is a proof of the dignity and sacredness of mankind as Jesus told us that He doesn’t want to lose anything that his Father has given him, however they had lived their life, and however it had ended, executed or not.
Ronald Rolheiser has this to say:
‘Christ came as God’s perfect image, the most precious, most sensitive, most special human being ever. It was that, the uniqueness and goodness, which was crucified. And this perfect image still gets crucified, in us. It is precisely in these areas of our lives where we bear God’s image most perfectly, where we are most precious, most sensitive and most special, that, invariably, we get crucified.’
[The Passion and the Cross. Chapter 34 ‘A string of empty Tombs]
Each one of us is unique, each one of us is in the image of God, each one of has suffered, each one of us is sacred, each one of us is loved by God, each one of us is in need of his compassion. Jesus’ crucifixion is proof that all of us, whatever our state, belong to him.