Saint John’s gospel is a source for many of our Holy Week readings. How a story is told changes a story and John’s gospel tells the story in a particular way. In John’s Gospel, written as it was by a group of frightened and abused people, Jesus is all-knowing, all seeing and in complete control. In John’s gospel God’s glory is the primary character and Jesus merely its reflector to a frightened people longing for a savior. John’s gospel celebrates women and friendship in a different way to the others. That makes sense to me. Women have an inner strength and wisdom which men lack. And friendship, like inner strength and God’s glory are valuable to me when times are tough. It all makes sense to me and mostly I love John’s gospel.
This image of Jesus on the cross is from an 18th century Russian icon. The two Marys and John wait with the guard as Jesus breathes His last. Behind them is the city – a symbol of the “world” for which Jesus dies. The icon is round because it would have been set in a wall of icons – like a portal in a ship’s hull – a window to glory. The gold tooling around the characters and city represents God’s glory invading everything- all of life’s backdrop. Jesus’ body is not hanging – soft and tired – broken and bruised – arms stretched into a narrow “V” as would happen to a loose, exhausted body. Rather, the iconographer has written Jesus’ body as draped, elegantly in an “s” curve of relaxation with arms gently in a “T” position to indicate Jesus’ willingness to be there, his power to rest there and his own agency in his arriving there – doing that work of His own volition. His body clean and beautiful.
Today is Good Friday. It is termed “good” precisely because of this volition. The root word of volition (like “voluntary”) is “shall” or “will.” The Crucifixion is God’s “SHALL” statement on life. It is the same bold, powerful voice as that of a rescuer like a life-guard or a disaster-volunteer who sees you drowning or crushed under a pile of cinderblock after an earthquake or wist-deep in flood waters infested with poisonous south-asian snakes, His eyes lock onto yours. He stares at you. He screams at you in a barrelly, low, powerful voice of command: “Wait there! We are coming for you! Keep looking at me! I am coming for you! It will be ok! I know you are in pain but I am coming for you!” Rescuers have authority in their voice no matter how afraid they themselves are.
On Good Friday, I hear a heart beat. I hear it all day long and into the evening. It is God’s. It is a heart beat of a savior. Thump thump.Thump thump.Thump thump.Thump thump.Thump thump.Thump thump.Thump thump.Thump thump.Thump thump.Thump thump.Thump thump.Thump thump.
Everything else is silent around this beating heart. Is it the heartbeat of a man who loved humans – especially hurt ones, tired ones, weak ones? Yes. Is it the heartbeat of a God who chose a way to drop the drawbridge over the mote of sin at the eternity castle? Yes. Is it the heartbeat of a man who loved his friends – let one even lay on his chest to hear God’s heartbeat? Yes, and that is just the one they wrote about. Is it the heartbeat of a man who had feet which were touched by a loving, powerful woman? Yes. Is it the heartbeat of a man who kissed foreheads of weeping frightened people? I believe so. Is it the heartbeat of a man who looked at people and communicated welcome, kindness and a love which healed wounds? Yes. Is it a heartbeat which raced when he was angry at pride, arrogance, manipulation, posturing, power-mongering and – most especially power-plays cloaked in God? Yes indeed. Is it the heartbeat of a man who – like any good prophet – had the ability to see something which could be but was not yet? Sure. Was it the heartbeat of a man which would be stopped from beating to punctuate every stopped heartbeat of past prophets and future ones? Most assuredly. Humans love their prophets – that is until they kill them for pushing too many buttons.
So for me, today is not a day for too many words. It is not a day for posturing or role-playing or anything too complex. Today is a day to try hard to listen for the heartbeat of God – that throbbing blood-rush of divine love, desire and longing. The heartbeat John listened to last night. The heartbeat of the sure knowledge that this – all of this – is not an accident but is, rather, lit somehow by the sparkling glitter of God’s glory even at a bloody cross with dog-shit on the ground beneath it. Today, I will not give up chocolate. I will give up fear. And I will listen. Hard. Carefully for the silence between the beats until silence is all that’s left. Thump thump. Thump thump. Thump thump. Thump thump.
Thump. Thump. Thump.