Christians believe that almost 2000 years ago, on the Friday of Passover, Jesus of Nazareth was arrested and tried by the Sanhedrin
, the religious/civil council that Rome allowed to take up many matters of justice. Jesus was charged with blasphemy, claiming for himself abilities and roles that are reserved for God alone. He was found guilty, and under Jewish law the penalty for blasphemy was death.
Unfortunately, the Sanhedrin
didn't have the authority to put someone to death, so its leaders took Jesus to see Pilate, the Roman governor. The main image we get from the Gospels is that Pilate just didn't care. He was an official in a foreign land who, we see from the Bible and what little records there are of his term in other sources, despised the people he ruled and wished most of all for them to just behave themselves and leave him alone. When Pilate found out that Jesus was from Galilee, he sent him and his accusers to King Herod who had authority over that area.
Now, Herod was pretty interested in Jesus and was glad for the opportunity to see him and question him. Some time before Herod had a rather dysfunctional relationship with John the Baptist. After John baptized Jesus and announced to everyone that the Messiah had come, his main purpose was over, and he was free to pursue more of his own agenda. John's message had always carried a strong moral and ethical component, and he turned his attention upon Herod, heckling the king wherever he went. Herod, for some reason, enjoyed this, especially John's complete lack of fear, and would actually invite John into his palace to speak with him. Herod's wife, however, did not enjoy the situation at all and managed to get John's head served to her on a platter.
Herod had heard rumors that Jesus was a returned John the Baptist, so he thought that perhaps he could strike up their relationship again. Unfortunately, Jesus was not nearly so entertaining. He just stood there as Herod asked him questions and said nothing. So Herod sent Jesus back to Pilate. He just wasn't interesting enough, and Herod knew that Pilate didn't really have the authority to make him Herod's problem.
Jesus got back to Pilate, who was fairly reluctant to do anything with him. It was Passover, and Jews were in Jerusalem from all over. Any time that happened, tensions ran high; the Jews really didn't appreciate Rome at all. Pilate saw Jesus as a polarizing figure, and was probably worried that whatever he did, people were going to react badly. There wasn't any provision in Roman law for the type of blasphemy the Sanhedrin
was charging, so he had Jesus beaten to see if that would satisfy them.
Nope, and that led to the scene where Pilate offers to release either Jesus or Barabbas, who was a rebel fighter against Rome. The crowd, who days before had been very supportive of Jesus, was whipped into a frenzy against him and called for Barabbas to be released. It probably wasn't all that hard. People had tried to get Jesus to take up arms against Rome for a while, and he always refused. Barabbas was a man of action, a man who also claimed to work for the deliverance of Israel. So Barabbas was released and the crowd called for Jesus to be put to death.
Pilate acquiesced - better to give them what they want and keep them relatively calm and happy with him than risk a riot. So Jesus was given the full crucifixion treatment - beatings, mockings, finally getting nailed to a cross and left to die.
Almost 2000 years ago, on the Friday of Passover, we murdered the Son of God. For some it was because Jesus just wasn't interesting enough. For some it was because it would calm a restless populace. For some it was because Jesus had been telling people that religious leaders who are not righteous, who do not live the way for which their teaching calls are not to be followed and supported. For some it was because they just happened to be there, happened to lose their individuality in the excitement and bloodlust of a mob.
Fear, indifference, selfishness, hate, these were the reasons for crucifying Jesus. He threatened the good life that the leaders of the Jewish religion had set up. He threatened Pilate's daily schedule, and ironically he didn't threaten Herod at all. So we killed him, murdered him even though he had done nothing wrong.
No one should call this Friday "Good" until they fully realize the shame and guilt of we humans having so fully rejected the very Son of God that we killed him. The Church started to call this day Good because of events that happened after the first such Friday. But the day itself is a day of mourning, of shame and guilt and sorrow for the evil things all of us have done not only to ourselves and each other, but to Jesus God's Son. And so on this day it is best not to call it Good.
Last night was Maundy Thursday, which name comes from mandatum
, or command, when Jesus washed his disciples' feet and commanded that all who follow do the same. At the end of the service, the congregation knelt as every component of the altar was stripped away - all the cloths, all the candles, crosses, stands, Books of Common Prayer, cushions for seats, everything both sacred and mundane was taken away. When all that was done the priests took salt water and scouring pads and scoured the top of the altar. Broad strokes, regular movements, two people working in concert to completely remove any possible trace of the symbols of hope and redemption that had only moments before been there. Then they left, and we left. No blessing, no dismissal, nothing but lowered lights and people filing out in silence, the Great Silence that lasts until Saturday night.
This Friday is not Good, this Friday is Evil. This Friday I am reminded of all the ways I have failed and still fail, all the bad things I have done.
I have written about why I write about all of us being responsible for killing Jesus. You can find the first part here
, and the second here