John Michael Gutiérrez, PhD
The final hours of Maundy Thursday found us in the Gethsemane orchard – in the darkness – with torches, shifting shadowy shapes, cloaked, muffled, nervous voices, with agonizing, fitful prayer and that equally dark, treacherous kiss.
Like the disciples, we scattered to our homes while Jesus was on the move willingly but no longer free. Silent, without protest he has been arrested, shoved, beaten until he bleeds, sent to different authorities, moved relentlessly forward by whips and verbal abuse.
Now in the daylight his movement ceases. He has been roped and spiked to a cross, set up above Golgotha’s horizon. The evangelists bring us to fix our gaze on this “Stopped Motion.”
We are beckoned forward to take a place among surely apprehensive yet determined women, mothers, traveling companions, key witnesses to the crucial events in Jesus’ life – banded together to watch and listen. Once there, the evangelists say to all of us “Can you hear the prophet Isaiah… listen…listen carefully to the perplexing, deeply disturbing portrait of “Yahweh’s Suffering Servant” (Isa. 52.13-53.12).
Yahweh speaks first in Isaiah’s narrative boldly, fatefully “Behold My servant will act wisely.” “Servant”, not really a name, is evocative, character-driven. In fact there are no names for anyone here. The Servant’s identity and experience with Yahweh is carried only by the pronouns – my, he, him. Just as sparingly, the reader’s experience with Yahweh and the Servant is carried by the pronouns – we, our, us. Pronouns matter, then and now.
As we stand clustered together, listen to the words about the Servant “he will be raised, lifted up, exalted….he grew up before Yahweh like a tender shoot….his appearance was so disfigured, marred beyond human likeness, he was despised, rejected, he was pierced….he was crushed, oppressed, afflicted, he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, he did not open his mouth, he was taken away, struck down… he was assigned a grave….it was Yahweh’s will to crush him, make his life a guilt offering….he poured out his life unto death….by his knowledge My Servant will justify many….he bore the sin of many.
Even as we stand clustered together the prophet draws us, the “we”, in by a probing question “To whom has Yahweh’s arm been revealed?” We are, then, skillfully set before the Servant. There was no beauty, no majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him, we esteemed him not….he took our infirmities, he carried our sorrows….We considered him stricken by Yahweh… he was pierced for our iniquities, our transgressions….his punishment brought us peace….by his wounds we are healed.
Listening, we can be stunned by the silence, loneliness, the abandonment, the solitary suffering experienced by the Servant. But the prophet doesn’t stop there. He declares….He will see his offspring, prolong his days….he will see the light of life and be satisfied. The Servant’s wounds bring health and reconciliation to us, the “we” by “the arm of Yahweh”. Such as it is, the Servant’s whole life has been preparation for this ministry of wounded healing. So the Servant’s experience on this day speaks to our loneliness, suffering, rejection, death….and in three days speaks to our hope, our deepest longing.
Naming today “Good Friday” points out how we know something these pensive, gathered mothers do not – the outcome. Now certainly each “Good Friday” we live with them through this dying scene to learn to hear anew and to let “Yahweh’s arm” take us by the hand, reconciling us, binding us to Father, Son and Spirit, to the creation and to the gathered community. In point of fact we are never farther than a Sunday from the realities of these scenes. Consider the Nicene Creed, where each Sunday, at the doorway to the Eucharist, we say together these same pronouns: For us and for our salvation…. He came down….he became incarnate….he was made man….for our sake he was crucified…..he suffered death….he was buried.
Now as we leave this somber day, the furious darkness of Chaos with its servant “Death,” gathers around his cross. Creation’s fragile order is beginning to buckle under the horror of this excruciating scene. We must still sit through Saturday’s vigil with its grief, weeping and dashed messianic dreams.
But for the “transforming conclusion” of this scene, the disciple Mary’s euphoric declaration, and the ever meaningful next sentence in the Nicene Creed, we wait eagerly for Sunday’s morning light.