Sermon for Good Friday, April 2, 2021 – the Rev. Elaine Ellis Thomas

ASEP Sermons

Isaiah 52:13-53:12+Psalm 22+Hebrews 10:16-25+John 18:1-19:42

You should have seen the crowds of people. I mean it’s always like this at the festivals, but this year, it felt, I don’t know, different. All the priests, those connected with the temple, they were all very tense, edgy this time. I serve the High Priest, so they certainly don’t tell me anything, but I have ears to hear and eyes to see. And what I knew for sure is that something was up.

So on this night when they’ve been at the temple all day getting ready for the Day of Preparation tomorrow, I was finishing up my chores before trying to get some rest before the festival began the next day, when I heard a commotion at the gate. By the time I could get there, all I could see was the backs of some soldiers following some of the temple police. There was a figure out in front of them, but I couldn’t tell who it was. This was all very unusual. And so I followed them.

Oh, I wish I had worn different sandals, because we walked down into the valley – the Kidron Valley – and up the other side, about halfway, to a place where there was an olive grove. I could hardly keep up with the soldiers and the crowd that had seen what was going on and decided to follow, too.

We finally stopped, and I climbed up on a small stone wall where I could see better. What was this? A single man, walking forward to meet the soldiers and the police? He asks who they are looking for. They tell him Jesus of Nazareth. “That’s me,” he says. The next thing I know, they are all tumbling onto the ground like a bunch of reeds in the wind.

Oh, I get it. This is the one I’ve been hearing about. The one that caused all that ruckus in the temple, turning over tables and flinging a whip around. And they say he raised a man from the dead not too long ago. I hear the priests talking about it, this man Lazarus, and how he’s dangerous if it’s true.

This man, Jesus, asks them again who it is they are looking for, and they say his name again. And again he tells them he is the one. Then he tells the soldiers to let everyone else go. His friends had gathered around him, well, a little behind him, and he doesn’t want them to get arrested,  too. And just then, one of them – a great, big, muscular man – slashes at young Malchus, and blood begins to spurt from where his ear had been. Then this Jesus shouts at this other man for doing that, saying something about drinking a cup, but I don’t see a cup, only a bloody sword and the soldiers and police.

And they take hold of Jesus and tie his hands behind his back and head back toward the city.

I overhear them say that they are taking Jesus not back to the High Priest but to his father-in-law, Annas, the last High Priest. I know a short-cut so get there ahead of them, standing at the door as they push Jesus through the entrance and pull the doors closed before the crowd can go in. No sooner had the doors closed than I saw him, that big one with the sword, and someone opened up the door a little to ask him to come in. So I stepped in front of him and said, “Hey, you were with him, weren’t you? You’re one of those disciples, right?” I knew he was because I saw him with my own eyes trying to defend Jesus in the garden. And you know what he said? He said, “No. I am not.” He was lying, and I knew it, but I also knew I needed to get back to the High Priest’s house, because I figured he’d be involved in this, too.

Sure enough, I was still out of breath when the soldiers came busting into the courtyard and hustled Jesus in to see Caiaphas. And there he was again, that big man who had lied to me. He was warming himself at a fire with some other people who also asked him if he was with Jesus, and he told both of them, “No.” It was the strangest thing, and I remember it so well, because at that moment, up on the top of the courtyard wall, the rooster began to crow louder than I’ve ever heard him crow before.

Not long after, they rush Jesus out of the High Priest’s house, and I hear they are taking him to Pilate, the Roman governor. That is bad news. Pilate is brutal. But I have work to do and can’t follow the crowd, so I have no idea what is happening.

A little while later, I am in the market gathering the last-minute supplies for the Passover, when I see a crowd of people surging toward the city walls. They are shouting and some are cursing, and there are a lot of women in the crowd.

I rush to see what I can see and catch a glimpse of Jesus, bleeding from his head, his clothes torn, and a big piece of wood across his back. My blood runs cold because I know what that means. He is carrying the crossbar. The soldiers are going to hoist him up on an upright and crucify him.

I follow the crowd for a while until they get to that hill outside the city walls where they deal with criminals. I can’t for the life of me figure out what this man has done to deserve this. If he raised a man from the dead like everybody says, that has to mean that God is with him, no? And there are some cheats in the outer court of the temple who take advantage of poor people. Not all of them, but some, so if Jesus taught them a lesson, what’s so bad about that? Is killing him really the punishment for that?

I can’t bear to stay and watch the whole thing. The last thing I saw was a few women and one of the men who was with Jesus. They were watching him die and he was speaking with them. I don’t know how he had the breath to do that. I don’t know how they had the strength to stay and watch.

I had to rush home but later asked one of the police that protect the High Priest how it ended. He told me that there were a couple of other bandits crucified, too, and they had their legs broken so they would suffocate faster, but Jesus was already dead when the soldiers got to him. They said a member of the Council – the Sanhedrin – went to the governor for permission to bury Jesus. I was shocked! This man, Joseph from a nearby town called Arimathea, was wealthy and respected. Was he a follower of Jesus, too? It was all too much to take in, and I still had work to do. It was the Day of Preparation, and even from where I went about my chores in the house of Caiaphas, I could hear the bleating of the lambs being led to slaughter in the temple.

ASEPSermon for Good Friday, April 2, 2021 – the Rev. Elaine Ellis Thomas