JESUS OF NAZARETH, KING OF THE JEWS.These words even today serve as a proclamation of the true identity of the man crucified outside the walls of Jerusalem. Saint John presents the Passion and Death of Jesus as manifesting the divine nature of our Lord, hidden to the many but revealed to His chosen faithful. The Jews understood very well that their true King was God Himself. David, Solomon and their successors were God's vicars; they did not rule in their own name; were represented the rule of the Holy One of Israel. The King of Israel would appear again in history in the form of his anointed Son, the Messiah, who was to come and establish definitively the Kingdom of God. The Hebrew liturgy often refers to God as King, still today, in very moving, beautifully worded prayers such as this one that is used on the Passover.Blessed art thou, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who createst the light of the fire....[and] who createst the fruit of the vine. Blessed are thou, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has chosen and exalted us above all the nations, and hast sanctified us with thy commandments (Cf. Kiddush for Festivals, The Daily Prayer-Book, New York 1949, pp. 598 and 560).
These are the beliefs we must keep in mind if we would grasp what it meant that Pilate deliberately, against the objections of the Jewish rulers, had these words nailed upon the cross: Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. John well appreciated the implications of this title posted above the head of the dying, rejected Jesus. For that reason he repeatedly highlights the sovereignty of Christ precisely during those episodes when he was apparently defeated. At his arrest, when having been turned over by his own religious leaders to the Roman Governor, mocked and scourged he is presented to the people. And finally, when nailed to the cross where he is helpless, and is delivered over to death. The message that St. John proclaims here is that these events, far from being indications of defeat, are the enactment of God's plan of salvation. They are the revelation of the glory of God previously hidden in the man Jesus but now manifest to the eyes of faith.
The light of the resurrection was necessary for this vision of Christ as the King of God's chosen people. Today, as we reflect on the mystery of our Lord's passion and death, we are invited to follow the Evangelist in his contemplation and faith. We are given the opportunity to penetrate through the surface happenings, which are so painful to envisage and relive in some way with the Lord, to the meaning they continue to have in terms of salvation and eternity. Doing this, however, is just the beginning of the task set us by the Gospel; we are to put the insights we receive from such consideration into practice in our own lives, day by day. Our task is to transform those frustrations and other sufferings, whether mental or emotional or physical, into life-giving experiences through union with the cross of Jesus.
Obviously, such transformation requires much effort but depends totally, at the same time, on the gifts of grace. We believe these graces are already won for us and will be offered to us if we but truly seek for them. If Jesus died on the cross it was, after all, for our salvation and for our sanctification. He did not hold back himself, nor did the Father spare his son; as John tells us earlier in his Gospel, it was from love for us that he gave him up to death.
In this memorial service on Good Friday, there are, in addition to this Passion account of Jesus' death, a series of ten prayers to be made for all persons, those of the faith first of all, and those without that gift of God's mercy. Having heard and received the word of life we raise our hearts to God in prayer to assist one another and all his children on earth that we might put it into practice and attain to the salvation won for us in principle by Christ Jesus.
Following these prayers, we then pay homage to our Lord who suffered on the cross, in gratitude for all he has done for us and for our salvation and to express our determination to remain faithful to him in the future. After this act of homage, there is a communion service in which we receive with lively faith the body and blood of the living Lord. This communion is offered to us first of all as a reminder of what he once did for us, but that is only part of the gift. No less importantly, this gift is also a promise, even a pledge pointing to the future when we will be joined to him face to face to enjoy his presence and experience, with him, the fruits of his labors and sufferings in the Kingdom of his Father. With gratitude for this priceless favor to us and for all his mercies, let us all renew our commitment to him and to his Church for whom he died. There is no better way to prepare ourselves, by lives of holiness and loving service, to meet him when he comes in glory to bring us into the presence of the Father.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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