“Are you not also one of his disciples?”
How would we answer this question?
How would we answer it three times?
How would we answer it among friends?
How would we answer it among strangers?
How would we answer it among adversaries?
How would we have answered it yesterday?
How would we answer it tomorrow?
How would we answer this question, fearing that our life depended on it?
How would we answer this question, fearing that the life of our friend depended on it?
How would we answer this question, not knowing what tomorrow will hold?
How would we answer it, as we, here, know the rest of the story?
How could we answer “no,” when the man about whom the question is posed is our dearest friend and Teacher?
How could we answer “no,” when it was the deepest truth we knew?
But how could we answer “yes,” when that friend and Teacher is on his way to certain death?
How could we possibly trust our God enough to answer yes—meanwhile also knowing that that put us in the same immediate danger?
“What is truth?”
Is it only the truth if we can see it? Touch it? Taste it? Hear it? Smell it? Feel it? Breathe it? Own it? Name it? Lose it? Keep it? Control it? Include it? Exclude it? Watch it? Leave it? Open it? Close it? Try it? Move it? Love it? Hate it? Kill it?
No one asks any questions in this last portion of John’s story. We do not hear Jesus cry out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” as we hear from Matthew and from Mark. No one, either, asks any questions of Jesus. “Are you not the Messiah?” they do not ask. “Do you not fear God?” they do not ask. It is declared that Jesus of Nazareth is King of the Jews. Jesus does not ask, “is it finished?” but proclaims, simply, that it is.
And yet many questions remain. Why Jesus? Why death? Why here, now, today? Why not Barrabas? Why doesn’t Pilate just let him go? Why crucify him? Why crucify him beside two others? Why doesn’t Jesus save himself? Why don’t any of his friends take him down off the cross? Why does Pilate give his body to Joseph of Arimathea? And why does Nicodemus come to prepare the body for burial? Where are the disciples? Where are the women? Where is his mother? Where are his friends? Where is his God?
And the answers aren’t near to us, today. Today, there are only questions. Today, there is only confusion, and fear, and darkness. Today, there is only death.
Hear these words of truth from the prophet Walter Brueggemann:
Holy God who hovers daily round us in fidelity and compassion
this day we are mindful of another, dread-filled hovering,
that of the power of death before which we stand thin and needful.
All our days, we are mindful of the pieces of our lives
and the parts of your world
that are on the loose in destructive ways.
We notice that wildness midst our fear and our anger unresolved.
We mark it in a world of brutality and poverty and hunger all around us.
We notice all our days.
But on this day of all days,
that great threat looms so large and powerful.
It is not for nothing
that we tremble at these three hours of darkness and the raging earthquake.
It is not for nothing
that we have a sense of our helplessness
before the dread power of death that has broken loose
and that struts against our interest and even against our will
Our whole life is not unlike the playground in the village
lovely and delightful and filled with squeals unafraid,
and then we remember the silencing
of all those squeals in death
and we remember the legions of children
that are swept away in a riddle too deep for knowing.
Our whole life is like that playground
and on this dread-filled Friday we pause before
the terrible silencing we cannot master.
So we come in our helpless candor this day…
remembering, giving thanks, celebrating…
but not for one instant mindful of dangers too ominous
and powers too sturdy and threats well beyond us.
We turn eventually from our hurt for children lost.
We turn finally from all our unresolved losses
to the cosmic grief at the loss of Jesus.
We recall and relive that wrenching Friday
when the hurt cut to your heart.
We see in that terrible hurt, our losses
and your full embrace of loss and defeat.
We dare pray while the darkness descends
and the earthquake trembles,
we dare pray for eyes to see fully,
and mouths to speak fully the power of death all around,
we dare pray for a capacity to notice unflinching
that in our happy playgrounds other children die,
and grow silent
we pray more for your notice and your promise
and your healing.
Our only urging on Friday is that you live this as we must
impacted by not destroyed
dimmed but not quenched
For your great staying power
and your promise of newness we praise you
It is in your power
and your promise that we take our stand this day.
We dare trust that Friday is never the last day,
so we watch for the new day of life.
Hear our prayer and be your full self toward us.