• Holy Week: Chapter 6: Good Friday

    by  • 8 April 2020 • Extract, Holy Week, Religion, The Christian Community • 0 Comments

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    Holy Week will guide you from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. It will help bring the events of Easter alive, and provides opportunities for prayer and contemplation. Each day is accompanied by a gospel reading.

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    John 19:1–27

    Crowning with thorns

    Then Pilate took Jesus and had him scourged. (2) And the soldiers plaited a crown of thorns and put it on his head and threw a purple cloak round him, (3) walked up to him and said, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ And they struck him in the face. (4) ‘And again Pilate went out and said to them, ‘See, thus I bring him out to you, so that you may know that I find no guilt in him.’ (5) And Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple cloak. And he said to them, ‘See, this is Man.’ (6) When the chief priests and the Temple attendants saw him, they shouted: ‘Crucify, crucify him!’ Then Pilate said to them, ‘Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.’ (7) Then the Jews replied, ‘We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he has made himself a Son of God.’

    The judgment

    (8) When Pilate heard these words, he was even more alarmed, (9)and he again went into the courthouse and said to Jesus, ‘From where have you received your mission?’ But Jesus gave him no answer. (10) Then Pilate said to him, ‘You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have the power to release you and also to crucify you?’ (11) Jesus answered, ‘You would not have power over me unless it had been given you from on high. Therefore the greater burden of destiny falls upon him who handed me over to you.’ (12) Upon this, Pilate wanted to set him free. But the Jews shouted: ‘If you release him, you are no longer a friend of Caesar; for everyone who makes himself a king is against Caesar.’ (13) When he had heard these words, Pilate led Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat in the place called The Pavement; in Hebrew, Gabbatha. (14) It was the Day of Preparation of the Passover festival, about midday. And he said to the Jews, ‘See, this is your King.’ (15) But they shouted: ‘Away with him, away with him, crucify him!’ Pilate asked them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ And the chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar.’ (16) Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.

    The Crucifixion

    (17) And they seized Jesus and, carrying his own the cross, he went out to the Place of a Skull, in Hebrew called Golgotha. (18) There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on the one side, the other on the other side, and Jesus in the middle. (19) Pilate had written a title and fixed it on the cross. It read: Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews. (20) This title was read by many Jews, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city. It was written in Hebrew, in Latin and in Greek. (21) Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, ‘Do not write: “The King of the Jews,” but “This man said: I am the King of the Jews”.’ (22) But Pilate answered, ‘What I have written I have written.’

    (23)Now when the soldiers had crucified Jesus they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. Then they also took the cloak. This cloak was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. (24) Then they said to one another, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots to see whose it shall be.’ The word of scripture was to be fulfilled:

    They divided my clothes among them,

    and for my cloak they cast lots.

    (25) Therefore the soldiers did this.

    Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. (26) Now when Jesus saw his mother standing there and the disciple whom he loved, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, see, that is your son.’ (27) And then he said to the disciple, ‘See, that is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her to himself.


    Good Friday

    As the still week really enters into stillness, the bearing of Jesus changes. His fiery fighting will is no longer evident. When between midnight and sunrise the band of soldiers lays hand upon him whom Judas has kissed, he does not oppose them. Rather, he opposes Peter who wants to fight for him. Then he is seized by rough hands and dragged through the city, from one end to the other. He is apparently delivered, helpless, to those who scourge him, press the crown of thorns on his brow, spit upon him and strike him in the face. The witnesses of the tragedy are overcome with anguish as he who has no physical strength left is forced to carry the heavy cross and is nailed upon it by the executioners with pitiless cruelty. What has become of the fighting power which blazed in him during the first days of the week? Has he abandoned the battle against the blindness and wickedness of men? No, the fight which was waged on the human level on the previous days is now carried on in a higher sphere, and so takes on still more powerful dimensions. Christ is not fighting against flesh and blood, but against the invisible demonic powers from whose tyranny he will deliver humanity. He fights against the Luciferic powers, the glittering beings of deceptive light, who want to estrange man from the earth and, likewise, against the Ahrimanic powers who want to harden and fetter man to dead matter. As Christ seems to lay down the weapons, he is really following the satanic powers into their hiding-places in order to overcome them there.

    Ahriman displays his power over people most triumphantly when he approaches in the form of death. In humanity’s evolution up to the ‘turning-point of time,’ death which had formerly been a friend of man had taken on more and more the features of Ahriman. The dark power knew how to use man’s destiny of death to make it his sharpest weapon. The power of death is not only that we must die; it becomes really manifest only after death. When we have laid aside our earthly body it must then be proved whether we can still maintain a connection with what takes place on earth among those to whom we belong. Here lies death’s actual power — that it can wrest us from earthly things and thrust us out into the unbridgeable exile of life on the other side. The Ahrimanic power of death uses the earth to mock at man. During earthly life it binds him to the world of matter; it makes all sorts of promises of earthly fulfilment, which are no longer kept after death. The more a man is attached to the things of ‘this side’ during life, the more inexorably he is affected by ‘other-sidedness’ after death. Only those people who have gained a firm foothold in the life of the spirit during life on earth can after death remain helpfully united with those who are still living on earth. After death we have only as much spiritual command over matter as we have gained upon earth.

    When on Maundy Thursday Christ dispenses the Last Supper to the disciples in the peace of the Cenacle, there seems to be no conflict. And yet what a wonderful victory over the spirit of dead matter is shown when the Christ takes in his hand the earthly substances of bread and wine, and makes them luminous through the sun-force of his heart. He wrests the terrestrial creature from the powers of darkness and makes it the body and blood of his being of light. As he is able during his life to ensoul the earthly elements so that these become radiant, he will have all the more power to do so after death.

    In Gethsemane the fight against the power of death enters a decisive phase. Here in the quiet grove of the Mount of Olives, where he has so often been with his disciples for intimate teaching, he must now withstand the most dangerous attack of the enemy in utmost loneliness.* The community which he has just established in the upper room for the future wellbeing of humanity does not bring help and benefit to himself. The consciousness of the disciples has not grown to the greatness of the moment. Judas has gone out into the night of betrayal, but the others, too, leave their Master in the lurch. They are absorbed in the twilight of their sleep in Gethsemane, out of which Peter will deny Christ.

    It is not inner weakness and fear of death with which Christ has to wrestle in Gethsemane. One could not misunderstand more tragically the whole Passion of Christ than by thinking that Jesus prayed in Gethsemane that he might still be spared from death. Not fear of death, but death itself assails him. Death, already apprehensive of losing control over him, appears before him to lay hold of him. The destroying angel wants to possess him. The secret of the conflict in Gethsemane lies in the fact that death wants to outwit Jesus. It wants to wrest him away too soon, before he has ended his work and filled the last vestige of the earthly vessel with his spirit.

    For three years the fire of divine egohood has burned in the body and soul of Jesus. The human vessel — from within outwards — has thus already been consumed almost to ashes. What still has to be suffered and completed demands so much strength from the earthly sheaths that there is a real danger of premature death. Ahriman lies in wait and hopes to make use of this moment. Luke, the physician, describes with precise words what happens, when he says ‘And as he was in the throes of death he prayed with even greater intensity.’ In the clinical sense of the term, the death-struggle had already come. When Luke adds, ‘and his sweat became as drops of blood which fell to the earth,’ he adds exact symptoms of the agony of death (Luke 22:44).

    But Christ is victorious and death is repulsed. With the mightiest force of prayer ever known on earth he wrestles to remain in the body. It is an echo of this fight when he speaks on the cross the words that seem to betray a weakness: ‘I thirst.’ He still remains, even immediately before he breathes out his soul, true to the earth. It is not his will to pass into the spiritual world simply through dying. It is his will to remain united with the earth when he goes through death, and it is this that is to be his conquest over death. He wrestles to enter still more deeply into the earthly world of matter which he bears in himself through his physical body. There is still a last remnant to be ensouled. This, too, he will not abandon to the Prince of this World, who has begun to count on the material realm of the earthly as being in his possession once and for all.

    The drama returns to human scenes and conditions. On the morning of Good Friday Christ confronts the whole of humanity, as represented by the three figures of Caiaphas, Pilate and Herod. Then the way leads up to Golgotha. Nails are driven by the soldiers into the hands and feet of the Christ, and it seems as though he allows everything to come about quite passively. In fact, through the medicine of bitter pain, his inmost being has gained the ultimate power of spirit over matter, so that death can no longer claim him. The Ahrimanic death-powers realize this, and appear for their last effort, furious that their might has been of no avail. When the sun is darkened during the sultry midday hours of Good Friday, it is as though the demon of the sun were straining to the utmost against the god of the sun. And when the earth is shaken by the earthquake, all the demons of the earth seem to storm forward in an endeavour to help the satanic death-power to victory. Antichrist moves the earthly elements and even the forces of the heavens. However, death can strip nothing from the sovereignty of Christ’s spirit, from his authority over all earth existence. It is in accord with his own will that the cosmic powers rise up in the hour of Golgotha. He has said to the officers in Gethsemane, ‘But this is your hour: Darkness rules’ (Luke 22:53).

    In the midst of the darkness a mystery was manifested on Golgotha which may be mentioned only with great reserve. The body which hung on the cross began to radiate light. In many country districts of Europe, in a field or at the roadside, one can find crucifixes with a gilded figure on a black wood cross. A momentous secret of Good Friday is living here in the naive wisdom of folklore. A mysterious brilliance broke through the dreadful noonday night. The sun of Christ revealed itself as the physical sun suffered eclipse. A ray of Easter already wove itself into the darkness of Good Friday.

    The last of the Seven Words from the Cross, ‘It is finished,’ does not refer to the sufferings which have been surmounted, but to the complete conquest over the power of death which has been achieved. Whereas death casts into the banishment of ‘the other side’ the soul of a man whom it has mocked during his lifetime with the power of earthly matter, the Christ, in dying, goes directly to the earth. The blood streams from his wounds; his soul goes with it into the body of the earth. When blood streams out from a dying man, the blood and the soul go different ways; here the soul goes with the blood. Later, the body is lowered into the grave; the earth opens in an earthquake and takes into itself the body of Christ. When a human body given up by the soul is lowered into the grave, body and soul go different ways. Christ’s soul goes the same way, to the earth. That is the great cosmic sacrifice of love which the Christ is able to accomplish for the whole of earth-existence, because death can no longer hinder him. The earth receives the body and blood of Christ, the great communion, and therewith the medicine for the spiritualizing of all material existence is incorporated into earth existence — ‘the medicine that makes whole.’

    Continue to Chapter 7: Saturday in Holy Week


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