This is the preface to our Good Friday service:
After the last supper, Jesus went out to Gethsemane. It tells us this in the gospels of Matthew and Mark. Gethsemane means "the place of the oil press." The Gospel of Luke says they went out to the Mount of Olives… which is where you might expect to find an oil press.
The Mount of Olives is significant because people believed the Messiah would come from the Mount of Olives when he rescued Jerusalem. That idea came from a prophecy in Zecariah Chapter 14, and the story of Jesus uses the Mount of Olives as a literary symbol to tell us Jesus is the Messiah.
But John's Gospel, which we read today, does not give us a name for the place where Jesus went to be handed over. There is no name. John simply calls it a garden, or in Greek, a κῆπος.
There is another word Greek can use for a garden and it's one we still use in English, although we have forgotten its root-meaning; that is, we have forgotten where the word came from. That word is ... paradise…. in Greek, παράδεισος. We sometimes remember one garden in particular when we talk about paradise, and that garden is the Garden of Eden.
And that's John's point. His Gospel begins with a retelling of the story of creation
In the beginning was the word… and the word was with God 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life…
So, at the end of his life, John tells us, Jesus was in the garden, in a paradise, with his disciples. In Jesus, John hints, life has begun. And that's what makes Good Friday terrifying. Because Jesus and his disciples, John is telling us, were already living the life of the Kingdom of God. He had already enabled them to begin living as a Community of Divine Love.
And yet he was still killed. In John Chapters 18 and 19, we will listen to a story, now, of a Show Trial, of a Kangaroo Court, of a brutal scapegoating. It does not matter that he is innocent, that he has done nothing wrong, that he is against violence. The powers that be have decided someone has to die, and Jesus is the one they choose. The old violence of the world kills even Jesus.
It's tempting to look away. It's tempting to remember Easter Day, and to comfort ourselves with stories of resurrection. But there is only one way to resurrection, only one way for Jesus, and only one way for us. And that way is by dying.
So let us listen to the story in all its horror and injustice.
To listen to this story and be shaken by it, to feel the horror, is the beginning of holiness. It is the beginning of trust, the beginning of a faith, that by following Jesus we enter a life uncowed by death. A life which can face death and say, "Anyway… do your worst, I will not let you turn me aside."
To listen to this story and be shaken by it, to feel the horror, protects us from a cheap faith that uses the story of Jesus as a magic trick and a psychological prop to avoid the reality of death— a shallow faith which may not serve us well when life goes wrong.
Listen to this story, because Good Friday is our story, both as people who sometimes join the mob and condemn others, and as people who are finding that death is an empty threat which does not destroy us.
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