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Good Friday

Readings: Is. 52:13–53:12, Heb. 10:16–25 & Jn. 18:1-19:42

Today’s passage from the Book of Isaiah, which is the fourth of the four ‘Servant Songs’ in Isaiah, and which is sometimes referred to as the “Suffering Servant”, has often been interpreted as a prophecy of the death of Jesus Christ. And it’s easy to see why when we read some of the verses in this passage:

  • Is. 53:5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.
  • Is. 53:7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
  • Is. 53:11 Out of his anguish he shall see light; he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge. The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.

A lot of the dialogue we have just heard in Jesus’s Passion from John’s Gospel echoes the suffering of the Servant in Isaiah. I’m sure the author of John’s Gospel would have agreed that the passage from Isaiah was in fact a prophecy relating to Jesus.

As I mentioned in my sermon last night, in the very first chapter of John’s Gospel, John the Baptist, refers to Jesus as the Lamb of God, a term that is not used in any of the other three gospels in relation to Jesus. The clear inference to the reader, is that Jesus is destined to take the place of the Paschal Lamb at Passover. In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ death actually occurs ON the day of Passover, which is the time when the Paschal Lambs would normally be slaughtered. The author is making the theological point, that Jesus IS the sacrifice. He is to die, so that his followers may be freed from slavery to sin and death.

Jesus clearly saw himself in the same way, because with the ‘words of institution’ that he gave the apostles during the Last Supper –

“This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me”

and

“This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me,”

– he was echoing the instruction that God gave to Moses and Aaron in Egypt regarding the Passover, when God said,

“This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.”

Jesus was transforming the Passover ritual into what we now have as the Christian Eucharist. He was establishing a

“new covenant”,

a change in the relationship between human beings and God, which was being brought about by his death.

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews obviously saw it this way too. He attributes a quote from the prophet Jeremiah to the Holy Spirit,

“This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds,” he also adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”

Not only does the author of Hebrews suggest that Jesus has fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah, but he also sees Jesus as being a more reverent version of the model of the high priest in the Temple in Jerusalem.

The high priest was the only person who was permitted enter the “Holy of Holies”, which was the inner sanctuary of the temple where the Ark of the Covenant was kept, the place where God was believed to inhabit. The “Holy of Holies” was covered by a veil, or curtain, which kept it separated from the outer sanctuary. The only time the high priest was allowed to enter was on the Day of Atonement each year. On that day the high priest would sprinkle the blood of sacrificial animals (a bull offered as atonement for the Priest and his household, and a goat offered as atonement for the people) and offer incense upon the Ark of the Covenant and the mercy seat which sat on top of the ark.

The author of Hebrews now refers to Jesus as “our great high priest”. He suggests that through his death, Jesus has now opened a new way, a living way, where we can enter into God’s presence. We are no longer separated from God in such a way that we must rely on a high priest to intercede on our behalf. We can enter directly into His presence through our faith in Jesus. Through our belief that Jesus is the Messiah who reconciles us to God. This is why Jesus died on the cross on Good Friday. So that we might be reconciled with God.

The Lord be with you.
Fr. Michael.

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