Whom Do You Seek?

19 April 2019 – Good Friday

This day is extraordinary for its focus on the cross. Hearing the full story of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion, the focus is the cross. The focus is not about light, so the service of lights being lit and extinguished is a distraction. The focus is not on re-living the horror of Jesus’ torture and death. We are not re-enacting on this night. We are not setting the story of his sacrifice into a way-long-ago time. His crufixion was 2,000 years ago, yes, but it was also yesterday and today, and it will be tomorrow.

Unless we focus this night on the truth of the suffering of innocents in our world in all time, we will miss the meaning of this Good Friday.

Take seriously the questions Pilate asks Jesus about truth and his identity. Truth is the cross and Jesus’ identity is the crucified one, the unjustly crucified one –– a truth and identity that was not apparent to Pilate. Nor is, perhaps, to us. We are the crowd clamboring for the release of a real criminal and calling for the death of the one who was (and is) innocent.

If we are helped in this worship service to train our hearts, souls, and minds on the cross, we are better able in the rest of our year to live with gratitude for the one who was rejected and yet forgives us and leads us to a better way of living and dying. –– Melinda Quivik

John 18:1––19:42

When Judas brings the detachment of Roman soldiers along with the security detail of the Jewish chief priests, Jesus’ question (“Whom are you looking for?”) should remind us of the countless times in John’s gospel when Jesus asked people . . . what they were seeking.

. . . Jesus asked Andrew and Simon Peter, “What are you looking for?”

[And Jesus asks later:]

“Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?”

“I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me?”

“But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?”

Interspersed with these are Peter’s three denials. . .

. . . Interspersed with these are Pilate’s questions to Jesus:

“What have you done?” “So you are a king?” “What is truth?” “Where are you from?” “Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?”

[When] Pilate questions the crowd: “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” . . . Pilate comes off as a curiously sympathetic figure. But the idea that Pilate would have negotiated with Jesus or asked a Jewish crowd for instruction is of course a narrative device, because what we know of Pilate as an historical figure is that he was quite brutal. –– Stephanie Perdew VanSlyke

Isaiah 52:13––53:12

In the Good Friday text, we find the fourth in a series of Servant Songs. The identity of the servant is vigorously debated to this day. Is the servant a political leader or an individual? Is the servant the Messiah? . . . But the text of Second Isaiah itself does not equate the servant with the Messiah, nor does it seem to believe in an individual messiah. . .

The logic of the servant song was indeed new in its time, and continues to confound and startle us. In 52:13–15, God describes the servant, who will ultimately and unexpectedly do great things. In 53:1–11 . . . the observers. . . know that the servant has suffered along with the guilty, but has the servant suffered on behalf of the guilty? And . . . by choice or by divine command?

. . . While the animals of ancient sacrifice were incapable of opening their mouths, the servant was capable, and yet chose to surrender to God. So the servant is both like and unlike the sheep. –– Stephanie Perdew VanSlyke

Hebrews 10:16-25

Hebrews seeks to show that by his death and resurrection, Jesus has replaced the Israelite system of sacrifice and has in fact become the ultimate and final sacrifice, rendering all other sacrifice unnecessary. .

. . . The author quotes from the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:33–34; Hebrews 10:16–17) to remind the readers of God’s covenant to put the law in their hearts and to remember their sins no more . . . . Therefore, the readers can have confidence. . . now free to . . . focus on the ethical imperatives given in verses 24–25 to provoke one another to good deeds, to meet together, and to encourage one another. –– Stephanie Perdew VanSlyke

Melinda A. Quivik, an ELCA pastor and former professor of liturgy and homiletics, is the Editor-in-Chief of Liturgy. Her most recent book is Remembering God’s Promises: A Funeral Planning Handbook (Augsburg Fortress, 2018).

Stephanie Perdew VanSlyke is senior pastor of First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, in Wilmette, Illinois, and president of The Liturgical Conference.

Homily Service 40, no. 5 (2007): 30-42

David Turnbloom