This year I invite you to reflect with me on John’s Gospel account of Jesus’ passion.


God of love,
as in Jesus Christ you gave yourself to us,
so may we give ourselves to you,
living according to your holy will.
Keep our feet firmly in the way
where Christ leads us;
make our mouths speak the truth
that Christ teaches us;
fill our bodies with the life
that is Christ within us.
In his holy name we pray.  AMEN


READ:   John 12.12-19 – Jesus enters Jerusalem

Although it is Passover, the actions of the crowd as Jesus rides into Jerusalem go with another festival – Hanukkah.  Hanukkah was the commemoration of the liberation of Jerusalem from pagans in 164 BC.  When Judas Maccabeus rode into the city he was greeted by a crowd waving Palm Branches in celebration. 

Judas and his family became kings of Israel; what kind of expectations does the crowd have for Jesus?  What kind of throne will he claim?  As we watch Jesus’ progression into Jerusalem we are invited to be drawn into the action and the passion that awaits him.



READ:  John 18.1-14 – The arrest of Jesus

Three things strike me about this text:

        One, is the betrayal of Jesus by Judas his friend and intimate companion for the last three years.  How sad.  Psalm 55, talking about betrayal by a friend says it well: 

20 My companion laid hands on a friend
   and violated a covenant with me
21 with speech smoother than butter,
   but with a heart set on war;
with words that were softer than oil,
   but in fact were drawn swords.

        Two, when the police tell him they are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, he answers ‘I am the one.’  There seems no doubt that John is reminding us that here, standing in a garden, confronted by swords, betrayal, and violence, is Jesus, the I AM,  the Word sent from God.  The soldiers stumble back at his declaration.  Their reaction, voluntary or involuntary mirrors what people do when confronted by God.

        Three, the violent, futile action of Peter in drawing his sword.  Jesus is not that kind of king and will not be drawn into that kind of action.



READ:  John 18.15-27 – Peter’s denial

The contrasts in this part of the story are striking:

        Jesus being interrogated by the chief priests; Peter standing outside by a fire being questioned by other servants.

        Jesus speaking openly about his mission; Peter lying about his relationship with Jesus.

        Jesus, exhausted but acting with quiet dignity and resolve before his accusers; Peter only half aware of what’s going on and giving in to fear.

The Light of the world shines even in this darkness but the darkness will have its say too as the story goes forward.



READ:  John 18.28-40 – Before Pilate

Pilate seemed to have two main aims as governor of the Middle East:  For one, he wanted to keep things quiet so his bosses back in Rome would appreciate his work and perhaps promote him to a more comfortable posting. 

Second, Pilate seems to have had a special disdain for the Jewish people and he took great delight in thwarting their plans.  He wanted to show them he was in charge and that they had better listen up.

These two aims are on full display here in the scenes you’ve just read.

A key moment though is when Jesus and Pilate engage in the following dialogue:  36Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’ 37Pilate asked him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’ 38Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?’

Jesus’ response to Pilate is both revealing and incriminating.  Yes, he has a kingdom but his kingdom and rule won’t look anything like Roman rule.

Pilate, of course, can only see things from a this-worldly perspective.  As far as he knows truth comes at the end of a sword.  Pilate’s truth and power are ranged against a nearly naked, vulnerable man from little provincial town.  Pilate’s truth: I have the cross to hang your pitiable body on.  He can’t see that the Way, the Truth, and the Life stands before him in person!



READ:  John 19.1-16 – Here is the man

All over the Roman empire there existed statues of Roman emperors (many of the now in British museums; Claire and I have seen them).  The Romans loved to put these images up in far away provinces just to remind their subjects who ruled them and who they were paying taxes too! 

‘Here is the man!’ says Pilate to the crowd but little does he really know.  Here is the true image of the true God.  Here is the One who brought God’s wisdom into the world, the One who has made the invisible God visible.  Here is the king. 

Here stands Jesus.  This is what it looks like to be God’s image planted in territory which belongs to God but is in rebellion against him.  We are reminded once again of how costly God’s love for the world really is.  Here is the innocent man, the One who told the truth, the King crowned with thorns, accused of blasphemy.  Here is the man!  Here is God bruised and bleeding.


READ:  John 19.16-37 – And they took him away to crucify him

Three things stand out for me in this part of the story:

As Jesus goes to his death we are invited to REMEMBER John’s gospel story thus far:

Remember Caiaphas callously suggesting that it would be good for one man to die for the people (11.49-50). 
Remember Jesus telling the Greeks that ‘when he was lifted up he would draw all people to himself’ (12.32).
Remember how Peter declared he would lay down his life for Jesus and Jesus gently suggesting it was the other way around (13.37-38).

Now we come to the foot of the cross and what do we see?  JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS inscribed in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew.  Jesus truly is the Messiah to all the world!  And it is precisely through his execution that this will now happen.   This King has been chosen not only to rule the world but to redeem it. 

But we also see LOVE.  At the last, Jesus takes care of his mother (19.26-27). 

And we hear Jesus’ last words.  Not words of despair or abandonment as in Matthew but ‘it is finished.  N.T. Wright points out that the phrase is actually a single word in Greek.  ‘It’s the word that people would write on a bill after it had been paid.’  The meaning of the cross is a profound mystery but John suggests Jesus’ work is now complete, something that God’s people from that day to this can stake their lives on.



READ:  John 19.38-42 – Low in the grave he lay

In 1987, Biblical theologian Alan Lewis was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  The diagnosis came as he was working to complete his study of Holy Saturday, Between Cross and Resurrection.  To our great benefit he was able to complete the book before he died in 1994.

Holy Saturday is not much thought of or appreciated in the church circles I inhabit, unless… Unless you are seriously ill or walking with someone who is seriously ill.  Then it can take on a powerful significance. 

Always, we struggle with this tension between lament and hope.  Holy Saturday reminds us that grief cannot be ignored or submerged under the weight of happy Easter celebrations.  We remember that it is the mourners whom Christ pronounces “blessed” now and who are also promised comfort in the future (Matthew 5.4).

In the final chapter of his book, Lewis poignantly writes:  “Wistfully now I recall being publicly declared at ‘the height of my powers,’ just weeks before my diagnosis.  ‘Several years worth of physical, mental, and spiritual energy drained away in the fatigue of disease, surgery, and therapy.  The next twelve months were like one long Easter Saturday.’ (403).   

After naming the distress, anguish, and pain of that year, Lewis turns to gratitude for wise doctors, loving companions, and daily small miracles.  And his as yet uncompleted book!  “Perhaps it is not a strict prerequisite for hearing, thinking, and living the story of Christ’s cross and grave to have oneself approached the grave….But such an experience…is surely no bad thing for those who would meditate upon the ‘death of God’ to confront full face the perishability of humanness, our inexorable decay and transience, by spending time among the dying and those given up for dead.”  (405)



READ:  John 11.25-26; 20.1-18 – The eighth day of creation

Before the beginning, darkness on the face of the deep.  The void.  Then God’s wind, God’s breath, God’s speech summons life and light.  The first day.  Creation. 

But all flesh dies.  Two men gently take Jesus down from the cross and place him in the tomb.  Darkness, chaos descends once more. 

Until…until Sunday, the eighth day of creation.  This is the moment of new creation.  This is the first day of God’s new week.  The darkness is gone and the sun is shining.

‘But as we live in this time between the times of Christ's forgiveness through his cross and resurrection and the promised coming of the fullness of God's Kingdom, let us be ever watchful. Let us be watchful for the ways in which we can testify to the forgiving, transforming and reconciling power of Easter in a world which all-too-often seems bent on finding new ways to crucify.’  [Greg Jones]


*I have drawn freely on the work of New Testament scholar N.T. Wright for these meditations.  See especially:

John for Everyone (volume 2).

Jesus and the Victory of God.