Good Friday 2020 The Wounds of Jesus 10 April 2020
Strange as it may sound, in our recognition of the truth that Jesus is God, we sometimes forget that Jesus was also a real physical person who lived on this earth and died a cruel death on a cross. Meditating on the wounds of Jesus is a vivid reminder of this truth. Meditating on the wounds of Jesus is an ancient custom in the Christian Church. In our meditations this Good Friday, we think of the different wounds of Jesus and what they might mean for us personally.
The following meditations are based on Canon Dr Christina Baxter’s book ‘The Wounds of Jesus’. (Published 2004 by Zondervan). This was the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, Lent Book for 2005. After studying the book, I originally used these meditations at a ‘Good Friday Devotion in Words and Music’ at St Martin’s Church, Morden in April 2006.
Scripture Readings are from the Passion Narrative in St John’s Gospel apart from the final one.
I have noted the hymns sung by the congregation, but not those sung by the choir, nor the organ recitals.
Most merciful God,
by your Spirit you strengthened your Son
so that he was able to suffer for us;
Send your Spirit now,
so that we may be strengthened
to look upon him whom we have pierced,
to receive all the benefits of his passion,
and to offer ourselves wholly to your service,
for his dear name’s sake. Amen
The Collect for Good Friday:
in the cross of Jesus we see the cost of our sin and the depth of your love:
in humble hope and fear may we place at his feet all that we have and all that we are,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
Opening Hymn: Come and see, come and see, come and see the King of love
Reading: John 18:28-38a
How did Jesus use his hands? He used them to work in the carpenter’s shop, hard manual labour. They were used to serve, he used them to wash the disciples feet. He used them to bless, he blessed the loaves and fish before they were distributed to the 5,000. It was with his hands that Jesus wrote in the dust as the woman was brought to him who was accused of adultery. He used his hands to heal, he laid hands on a person or touched a person in order to heal them. The last act of the free hands of Jesus was to heal the ear of the High Priest’s slave which had been cut off by Simon Peter.
These were the hands that were bound when Jesus was arrested (John 18:12). These were the hands that Jesus used to hold the cross that he had to carry. These were the hands that were nailed to the cross, to the cross beam of the cross, his arms outstretched wide. Thomas was later to see for himself the wounds in Jesus’ hands where they had been pierced by the nails.
Let us ponder for a moment those outstretched arms held in place on the cross by nails hammered through his hands. Outstretched arms can, first, be a sign of welcome. He stretched out his arms to welcome little children. Jesus said ‘And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself ’ (John 12:32).
Outstretched arms can, secondly, be a gesture of blessing and healing. And third, outstretched arms can be thought of as being uplifted in prayer. Jesus ever lives to intercede for us.
Our lives too can be touched by the hand of God. Think on those times when your life has been touched by God, and thank God for them. Perhaps it was at your baptism, confirmation, times of answered prayer, illumination, encouragement, healing, forgiveness or some moment when you were touched by his grace and mercy. Perhaps God has touched you through prayer, scripture, sacrament, worship.
Perhaps you need to receive from his hands. Think of your hands, what good things have they received? Often we stretch out our hands to receive. Amongst other things at Communion when we remember the death of Jesus we stretch out our hands to receive the Bread of Life and the Cup of Everlasting Salvation. Count your blessings – and remember – and thank God.
Tony Kidd summarises this in his book ‘Jesus’ Hands and Ours’ in a meditation: ‘Crucified Hands’
Jesus says “When I look back upon the last few days, when I hold up my hands and see the holes left by the nails, I cannot help but wonder. These hands made a lot of things, they comforted many people, they healed others through the power of my Father working in me. I think of the work done at home for my mother, of the feet I washed for the disciples, and I ponder the short time it took to render me powerless to do any of these things, and I wonder at it. Why do some people find it easier to destroy than create, to harm rather than offer comfort, to injure or cause pain than to heal? Some wanted me to become a king, to organise a revolution. When I refused, I became the token victim of their frustration. Others wanted to stop my work because, as they saw it, I threatened their privileges. Far easier to dispose of me than to change their hearts and minds. My Father had other plans. I am alive and my hands will heal, although I will always bear the scars.
However, healing will continue as will the other things my disciples do in my name. Some will always find destruction attractive, but my words will live forever
Hymn: Beneath the cross of Jesus I fain would take my stand
Hymn: My song is love unknown, my Saviour’s love to me
Jesus’ feet took him to many different parts of Palestine where the power of God was needed. With his feet he climbed mountains, walked on water, crossed the fields where grain was growing. His feet would have been roughened by much tough walking. His feet were made wet by the tears of the sinful woman who then dried his feet with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. Mary too poured expensive perfume on his feet. His feet took him to Jerusalem when he knew that his destiny there was to suffer and die. His feet took him up the hill to Calvary. These were the feet that were pierced by the nails on the cross at Calvary.
Sometimes when the feet of criminals were nailed to the cross, there was a footrest at the base of the cross, which enabled the crucified person to raise their body and take the weight off their arms in order to breathe more freely. The evidence suggests that the cross of Jesus did not have this footrest as his death came so swiftly.
How might the feet of Jesus influence our Christian lives. Perhaps two ways. First, we are to follow in the footsteps of Jesus (1 Peter 2:21) ‘It was to this that God called you, for Christ himself suffered for you and left you an example, so that you would follow in his steps’. We are to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. Peter was writing his letter to slaves, people who lived with the tension of having the freedom of the Gospel, but were disempowered by their social setting. We are called to do good even when suffering unjustly. We need the support of the Christian fellowship for that.
The second way that the feet of Jesus can influence our Christian lives is pictured for us in the story of Jesus washing the disciples feet. As Jesus, in love and humility washed the disciples feet, so we should wash one another’s feet. This means we are to serve one another in love and humility and in ways which are practical and perhaps as socially uninviting as Jesus washing the feet of those first disciples.
Prayer: Jesus our brother, as we dare to follow in the steps you trod, be our companion on the way.
May our eyes see not only the stones that saw you but the people who walk with you now;
May our feet tread not only the path of your pain but the streets of a living city;
May our prayers embrace not only the memory of your presence but the flesh and blood who jostle us today.
Bless us, with them, and make us long to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with you, our God. Amen.
Hymn: There is a green hill far away, outside a city wall
I have never heard a sermon about Jesus’ back, but here are a few thoughts. Jesus turned his back on sin. He turned his back on Peter when Peter tried to tempt him to avoid the cross and Jesus said ‘Get behind me Satan’ Matthew 16:23. Jesus will have turned his back on other temptations too. His mother had taught him how to do this.
The disciples would have seen a lot of the back of Jesus as they followed him around Galilee. He strode ahead of the crowd, up the mountain or into the boat so that he could teach them. We can but speculate that his back was straight and strong. The disciples would probably have watched the back of Jesus in Gethsemane, at least for as long as they could stay awake. In Gethsemane Jesus was on the brink of abandoning the path of obedience to his Father. He prayed that he would not be brought to the time of trial, but then added ‘nevertheless not my will, but yours be done’ Matthew 26:39. Certainly the disciples turned their backs on Jesus. In his hour of need, they fell asleep.
Jesus’ back was subject to the cruel flogging which was part of Jesus’ physical suffering for us. Such flogging in the ancient world was a brutal affair and some victims died from that alone. There seems to have been a custom of flogging condemned prisoners before they were crucified in order to shorten the time they were on the cross. The instrument of torture for such flogging was leather whips fitted with pieces of sheep bone and lead balls. The sheep bones cut into the flesh and drew blood, the lead balls raised crimson bruises. At the end of the flogging tiny ribbons of flesh were all that was left on Jesus blood stained back. We read that after flogging Jesus, Pilate handed him over to be crucified.
Then Jesus carried the heavy cross on his back, raw wounds against rough wood – imagine the pain. J.S. Bach in St John’s Passion wrote ‘Look how his bloodstained back – in every part brings heaven before our eyes.’
How might the back of Jesus influence our Christian lives? Picture in your minds eye, the progress of Jesus along the Via Dolorosa, the way of sorrows, struggling to carry his cross on a back already bleeding and covered in open sores from the flogging, and hear again his call to us ‘to carry our cross’. What does it mean for us to carry our cross? One commentator, David English wrote “Jesus is not using cross bearing to describe the human experience of carrying some burden through life. It is much more comprehensive than that. People carrying crosses were people going to execution. Cross bearing as a follower of Jesus means nothing less than giving one’s whole life over to him.” Our cross is about self denial. Jesus said ‘If anyone wants to come with me, they must forget self, carry their cross and follow me’ Matthew 16v24
So the back of Jesus reminds us too, that we must turn our back on all that seems most attractive in the world, in order that we can see what God is calling us to do for him in the world. Jesus turned his back on sin and temptation and gave his back to the smiters. Will we do likewise?
Prayer: Must I go on, Lord Jesus? I can barely stand to see myself through the gaping wounds on your back. My stomach churns and I want to walk away. The journey on the cross is fraught with a thousand deaths, and I’m not sure if I am prepared to embrace each one. To know the fellowship of your sufferings is not so simple. Sustain me in my quest, dearest Saviour, and I will seek to share your sorrow. Amen
Hymn: O sacred head, once wounded, with grief and pain weighed down
We do not know what Jesus looked like. We have pictures in our mind of what he might have looked like influenced by the paintings or sculptures of him. What we do know is that soon after his public ministry began, he was recognised by many people who flocked to see him and hear him speak. Perhaps we can picture him walking the hills and using his eyes to take in the natural landscape and human life, useful for his sermon material and parables. His eyes were attuned to detail. He even saw the widow put into the collection all that she had.
His ears were also attuned to detail, he heard the tone of people’s voices, he knew when to challenge, when to encourage. He listened with the inner ear and so ministered to people’s hearts and could get to the root of their problems.
How was the head of Jesus wounded? Perhaps the first occasion was the kiss of Judas. Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. It has become a notorious kiss, because what should have been a sign of affection and honour was given with the opposite intentions – a mark of identity for execution. The first wound to his head was not in itself physically painful, but it was personally destructive, violating a bond of trust.
Then twice Jesus was a victim of spitting. At the High Priest’s house when Jesus was brought before the Council, and again when the soldiers mocked him when he was on the cross. The first time they blindfolded him so that he could not see who spat on him or hit him. We have seen similar pictures of atrocities against prisoners in (e.g.) Iraq who are blindfolded to disorientate them. The second time he was spat upon was just after they had forced a crown of thorns on his head. The King was crowned, but his Kingship was clearly seen not by a crown of diamonds, but by a crown of thorns, his Kingship was seen in suffering, shed blood and humiliation.
Then Jesus’ mouth was offered wine vinegar (sour wine) both before and during his crucifixion. Partly to numb the pain, partly to add to the mockery. Perhaps to try to keep him alive a little longer to see whether Elijah would come and rescue him. It added insult to injury. In Mark’s Gospel (14:3-9), the Passion Story begins with an anonymous woman anointing the head of Jesus with expensive perfume. Whilst Judas was preparing to betray him and his enemies seeking to arrest him, an anonymous woman anointed him.
When we decide to accept the rule of Jesus into our lives, and are anointed by his Holy Spirit, it will mean being transformed by the renewal of our minds. It will mean living a very different kind of life from the one we had before we came to faith. It may well include suffering different kinds of insults.
Christ be above me
Above my head, as my helmet of salvation.
Christ be above me
Above my life, as my protection.
Christ be above me
Above my future, as my banner who leads me on.
Christ be above me
Above my hopes, as my upward heavenly call.
Christ be above me
Now and for ever. Amen.
Hymn: Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee
Many people walked beside Jesus in his lifetime. Mary and Joseph would have held his hands and walked beside him as he himself was learning to walk. Other families accompanied him and his own family to Jerusalem on pilgrimage. He sat beside people in the synagogue and the market place. He began his Ministry by calling the twelve disciples to be alongside him, they listened to him, watched him and learnt from him. Later in his ministry he included alongside him those whose family or social setting made them undesirable, outcasts, lepers, prostitutes. Many were by his side. He died on the cross with thieves either side of him on their crosses.
The wound in the side of Jesus is mentioned only in John’s Gospel 19:31-37. It was inflicted on the body of Jesus after he has died. Jewish law forbade leaving bodies exposed after dusk, burial had to be on the same day. A further complication was that the next day was the Sabbath and he could not be buried on the Sabbath. Nevertheless the authorities had to be assured that Jesus was truly dead before he could be buried. So, a soldier pierced his side with a spear. Blood and water flowed from the side of Jesus, proving medically that Jesus was dead. That is important. Because when it comes to the resurrection, it is important to know that Jesus died and rose from the dead. It is not that he fainted and revived in the cool of the tomb. Jesus was dead. The wound in his side proved beyond any doubt that Jesus was truly dead.
For his contemporaries, being alongside Jesus meant learning from Him, which is why his followers were called ‘disciples’ or ‘learners’. We too are disciples or learners, as Christians, Christ is both in us and beside us. How does our being alongside Jesus impact upon us? How does Jesus being alongside us impact upon us? There is cleansing and strengthening in us being alongside Him. There is eternal protection because Jesus is alongside us.
Prayer: Jesus, even now, I look at you – at your side as it flows with water and blood. It is a fountain in which I cannot plunge deep enough, dearest Saviour. I feel your heart break for me, and I know that I, too, have pierced you with my indifference, my rebellious clutch at control, and my callous disregard for the price you paid to change all this. I see in your blood the great sacrifice and I take comfort in the cleansing streams that ever flow from your side. Wash me here, Lord, and I will be whiter than snow.
Hymn: Jesus Christ, I think upon your sacrifice, you became nothing, poured out to death
Human beings are people who need both novelty and custom. When we are spiritually tired or drained we are aware of the need to ‘come home’. Spiritual refreshment might come to us by taking a walk in a place that we have never visited before. Another time, going to somewhere we have often visited before never fails to refresh or challenge us. Christians find this to be true in our spiritual lives too. Perhaps reading a very familiar passage of scripture, a Psalm or a Parable, never fails to refresh us. The 23rd Psalm for example might always inspire us. It is a natural resting place to which we often return. On another occasion, a fresh movement of God’s Spirit within us, something totally new, inspires us and renews us too. As we consider the heart of Jesus today, it might offer the chance to ‘come home’.
At the time of Jesus, a person’s heart was considered to be the seat of the emotions and also a key location of spiritual life from which worship flowed. Yet the heart of a person could be hidden, and people recognised that only God really knew the human heart. God is able to search the hearts of people, he tests our hearts. The heart is capable of a huge range of emotions, from it come both evil thoughts and faith in God.
The heart of Jesus was easily moved. It was moved with compassion when he saw people in need. It was moved to tears, he wept when he saw the sin of people and the effects that it had. He wept when his friend Lazarus died. Jesus was not half-hearted, hard-hearted or soft-hearted. The Gospel writers speak of Jesus as strong-hearted (his love endures) and warm hearted (his love flames fiercely for all who need his care).
It is hard for us even to imagine what Jesus experienced at his crucifixion. Alongside the physical pain and suffering, he experienced emotional anguish and spiritual anguish as he was entirely at the mercy of the forces of evil, and overwhelmed with the certainty that this was his father’s will and the purpose for which he came into the world. His close friends deserted him, he was betrayed by one of those closest to him, another close friend denied him. His was a heart breaking death.
Perhaps his preparation was the self emptying of his heart during his life. At the temptations in the wilderness, Jesus had the opportunity to abandon his God given call. He stayed with the hardness of that call rather than choose the easy way of giving into the temptations. At the foot washing, he took the servant role himself. He emptied himself. The heart of Jesus is one of love and self giving. It is a heart that beats for you and me, the love of Jesus is for everyone. It is pure unconditional love offered freely to each person who will receive it. In accepting this love and responding to it we can begin to understand the wounded heart of Jesus, and allow ourselves to be given a new, woundable heart, which can love and give as Jesus did.
As he was preparing for death and as he was dying, the heart of Jesus was concerned for the well being of his disciples and of his mother. But the wounds of the heart of Jesus continue beyond his death, beyond his resurrection into eternity. His heart is continually wounded by our failure to live in love, by our failure to keep his laws. This Jesus whose heart we wound, nevertheless carries us to the Father’s throne of grace. He intercedes for us. By the grace of God our hearts can be changed by Him. Are we prepared, this Good Friday, to let God change our hearts, soften our hearts, enlarge our hearts?
Meditation: Is it Possible? (source unknown)
Is it possible for a man to speak to another man’s heart?
For a man on a cross 2,000 years ago, upon a hill to speak today to a man’s own heart?
Is it possible for one man’s death to be another man’s life, when that man’s death 2000 years ago,
upon a hill said death to his friends and desolation to his mother?
Is it possible for one man’s shadow to throw light on life and love 2,000 years on.
Closing Hymn: When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died
The Prayer of St Richard
Thanks be to you, our Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the benefits which you have given us,
for all the pains and insults which you have borne for us.
Most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother,
May we know you more clearly,
Love you more dearly,
And follow you more nearly,
Day by day. Amen
Lord Jesus Christ, Master carpenter of Nazareth
Who on the cross through wood and nails didst work mans full salvation.
Wield well thy tools in this thy workshop, that we who come to thee rough hewn may be fashioned to a truer beauty and a greater usefulness by thy nail pierced hands. For the honour of thy holy name. Amen.
Christ crucified draw you to himself,
To find in him a sure ground for faith,
A firm support for hope,
And the assurance of sins forgiven;
And the blessing of God almighty, Father Son and Holy Spirit, be upon you now and always. Amen