Love, all embracing (Good Friday)

2 Apr 2021 by Rev Paul Bartlett in: Worship Services: 2021

A SMALL CANDLE IS LIT seeking to hold back the darkness, it flickers, threatened by all that humanity is and has been on this Friday that would come to be called Good.



Jesus was not crucified on a polished sculptured cross in a cathedral between two candles, but on a course wooden cross between two thieves; on the town’s garbage heap outside the City walls; at a crossroad so cosmopolitan that they had to write His title in Hebrew and Latin and Greek … at the kind of place where cynics and thieves curse and soldiers gamble. Because that is where He died. And they and you are what He died for. And the Golgotha’s of our age are where we ought to be and what church as the gathered people of God ought to be about. We acknowledge that country.



Leader: Who are you looking for in this place today?

People: We are looking for Jesus of Nazareth.

Leader: You will find him here but know that you will meet him in a dark story, one of suffering, betrayal and death. Are you willing to enter into this story?

People: With courage, humility & God’s Grace, yes, in the company of all who call him Lord.

Let us pray…

Creator God, in this bleak story, in this journey through betrayal, in the grief of the denial of friends,

in the abuse of power, in the brutality of the cross, be with us. Stay here, watch and pray. Amen.



Here hangs a man discarded

A scarecrow hoisted high

A nonsense pointing nowhere

To all who hurry by.

Can such a clown of sorrows

Still bring a useful word

Where faith and love seem phantoms

And every hope absurd?


Can he give help or comfort

To lives by comfort bound

Where drums of dazzling progress

Give strangely hollow sound?

Life emptied of all meaning

Drained out in bleak distress

Can share in broken silence

My deepest emptiness.


And love that freely entered

The pit of life’s despair

Can name our hidden darkness

And suffer with us there.

Christ, in our darkness risen

Help all who long for light

To hold the hand of promise

And walk into the night.                                             Brian Arthur Wren


We confess to You, our Lord and Saviour, that as individuals and as a community of faith that we have betrayed and denied You, forgotten and doubted You.

When our faith is tested, we wonder where You are and whether we are truly loved and of value and worth. When we see injustice at home and in the world, we often stand by, turn our backs, or just ignore the cries of others and the cries within each of us.


We confess that again and again we deny You and betray You with our silence and with our indifference when we fail to proclaim Your Good News, in every part of our being; when we fail to live out Your teachings and love those around us as you would have us love ourselves.

Forgive us, O God, and help us to change our thinking and our ways. May it start today!

Help us to remember, to watch and to pray, to know Your love, and to know Your forgiveness.

In the name of the One who on this day was crucified, Jesus the Messiah, we pray. Amen.

Adapted from a prayer by Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell 


SONG – Taize ‘Watch & Pray’  

Stay with me, remain with me, watch and pray…the first 4 minutes of the song.


GOSPEL READING                        
John 18:1 – 5a
After Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with his disciples. So Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with the Temple police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” They answered, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus replied, “I am he.”

John 18: 12 – 13 So the soldiers, their officer, and the Jewish police arrested Jesus and bound him. First they took him to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. 

John 18: 15 – 17 Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter was standing outside at the gate. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and brought Peter in. The woman said to Peter, “You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” 

John 18: 19, 24, 28 – 40 selected verses Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest. Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate’s headquarters. Pilate summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus 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.” Pilate 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.” Pilate asked him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, “I find no case against him. But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” They shouted in reply, “Not this man, but Barabbas!”


John 19: 1 – 15 selected verses Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe.Pilate went out again and said to them, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.” 12 From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.” 13 When Pilate heard these words, he said to the Jews, “Here is your King!” 15 They cried out, “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but the emperor.”


HYMN TIS 345 vs 1, 2 & 4

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

O sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?


Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?

Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?

O sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble

Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?


Were you there when the sun refused to shine?

Were you there when the sun refused to shine?

O sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble

Were you there when the sun refused to shine?

John 19: 16 – 30 selected verses Then Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.” When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier.

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said “I am thirsty.” A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. In this is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God!


REFLECTION                                        “Love, all embracing”

Four times throughout John CH’s 18 & 19 Pilate says he can find no reason to kill Jesus and four times the religious leaders and then also the crowds call for Jesus’ death by crucifixion. And yet crucifixion was not their call to make, it was Rome’s. Rome crucified political opponents who were a threat to the State or the dignitas of Rome. Such were the responses of Pilate, that for many centuries a group of Christians held Pilate as a Saint and the ‘Acts of Pilate’ was one of many New Testament books that existed in the 2nd – 4th C’s but which eventually didn’t make it into the Canon.


So how come, Pilate comes out almost smelling like roses especially when John’s Gospel is written during a time of great persecution of the Church by the Roman Emperor Domitian, son of Vespasian the General and later Emperor, who with his son Titus, destroyed Jerusalem on 8 September 70 CE.

In spite of the historical evidence (Jesus was crucified) all the focus is on the culpability of the Jews who had ‘rejected Jesus as their Messiah’. Along with their cry that they have no Emperor but Caesar and that all of this will be upon children’s heads, forever!


But the reality is that many Jews did become followers of Jesus. Though increasingly as the decades unfolded, more and more Gentiles, Greeks and Romans and those who lived within its Empire did become followers of Christ Jesus. What soured the toleration that Jewish authorities had towards these followers of Yeshua ben Joseph, was the destruction of Jerusalem. Christians by and large saw Jerusalem’s destruction as a sign of God’s judgment upon the Jews for rejecting Jesus. So by the time the Gospels were written the antipathy was toxic and that meant that the encounters and remembrances that they wrote about, especially in that final week, focused on this rejection.


So why is Pilate not the focus of the early Church’s anger? Perhaps because the Gospel writers wanted the authorities to see that the claims of Jesus were no threat to Rome. They were but that discussion can wait. We see hints of this seeking to live as Christians within the Roman world, in Paul’s book of Romans in Ch 13 around issues of submission to authorities and in the Gospels around taxes and  “giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s and giving to God what is God’s”. (Luke 20)


Whatever the outcome of such decisions nearly 2000 years ago, and don’t forget that the Gospels are primarily a theological journey and do not pretend to include, even if they could, all that was going on during the life and ministry of Jesus. What they chose to include was done to confirm, to celebrate and to promote the Good News of Jesus Christ, crucified & Risen Son of the Living God.

Because of that particular focus, an unintended consequence of this strong focus on the Jews rejection of Jesus, meant that down through the ages the Jews have been persecuted, killed and banished from cities and countries culminating in the deaths of 6 Million Jews during WW2.


Set against this backdrop, the focus of Good Friday should not be about where to apportion blame or to stoke anger for the death of Jesus on a rubbish tip just outside the city walls of Jerusalem.


Set against this backdrop, the focus of Good Friday should not be about ‘a wretch like me’ to quote the line in Amazing Grace. The focus of today should be about Jesus’ trust, faith, obedience and love to ‘take our place’ once and for all, to do away with the daily sacrifices in the Temple, once and for all, as a sign of God’s great love for humanity. ‘Surely if I send my Son, they will listen to him!’

Today is about Jesus’ commitment to enter even the darkest of places, to be with us. Golgotha says in effect ‘there is no place, no experience in life where I will not be with you. You are never alone’.


In a moment you will have the opportunity, if you wish, to hammer a nail into this cross before you. Not as a sign of your complicity in Jesus’ death but as a liberating opportunity to hand over to him anything that may need to be let go of, to be entrusted into his liberating and healing care, for yourself or on behalf of someone else. By this action we are saying grief and loss, pain and despair, rejection and humiliation or ‘unforgivable’ past deeds are strong; but in Christ Jesus there is One who takes all that I and the world can bring before Him into himself that even at great cost to Him, to bear our burdens, to set us free. That is why this day is called ‘Good Friday’.


The crucifixion alone, tells us of God’s great love. In-spite of all that the powers of this world might try to, and even amidst our own hard heartedness and selfishness, such things cannot stop l the liberation and transformation Jesus brought and brings to people’s lives. It is unstoppable!

You’ve no doubt heard the question ‘how much do I love you?’ This much says Jesus with his arms outstretched on a cross encompassing the whole world and each precious person with it. Amen


You are invited to come forward and hammer a nail into the wooden cross on the floor, for yourself or on behalf of another person. While we do this we will quietly sing:


SONG – Taize ‘Jesus, remember me’    

Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom


HYMN TIS 240 written in jail before his death.

All go to God when they are sorely placed

They plead to him for help, for peace, for bread

For mercy, for them sinning, sick or dead.

We all do so in faith or unbelief.


We go to God when he is sorely placed

Find him poor, scorned, unsheltered, without bread

Whelmed under weight of evil, weak or dead.

We stand by God then, in his hour of grief.


God comes to us when we are sorely placed

Body and spirit feeds us with his bread.

For everyone, he as a man hangs dead:

Forgiven life he gives all through his death.                           Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1909 - 1945




Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Save us from the time of trial, and deliver us from evil.

For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours now and forever. Amen.


HYMN - TIS 341 ‘My song is love unknown’ vs 1 - 4, 7

My song is love unknown, my Saviour’s love to me;
Love to the loveless shown, that they might lovely be.
O who am I, that for my sake
My Lord should take frail flesh and die?

He came from His blest throne, salvation to bestow;
But all made strange, and none
The longed-for Christ would know:
But O! my friend, my Friend indeed,
Who at my need, his life did spend.

Sometimes they strew His way, and His sweet praises sing;
Resounding all the day Hosannas to their King:
Then “Crucify!” is all their breath,
And for His death they thirst and cry.

Why, what hath my Lord done? What makes this rage and spite?
He made the lame to run, he gave the blind their sight.
Sweet injuries! Yet they at these
Themselves displease, and ’gainst Him rise.

Here might I stay and sing, no story so divine;
Never was love, dear King, never was grief like thine.
This is my friend, in whose sweet praise
I all my days could gladly spend.                                Samuel Crossman 1624 - 1684



Christ, in our darkness risen, help all who long for light, to hold the hand of promise

And walk into the night, for today the world is dark, very dark, and our Lord is dead.

Go quietly, go gently, comfort and support all who mourn until by God’s Grace we gather again.