Lectionary Commentary 2: Good Friday

February 19th, 2012

Isaiah 52:13–53:12

This Isaiah passage is arguably the greatest of the so called “servant songs” of Isaiah. The passage opens with the triumph; “he shall be exalted and lifted up” (52:13). The victory will be not just over Israel but over the nations. Yet the rejection of the servant is real. In a deep sense this passage must be embraced as written to a nation in exile. The despair of the present is countered with the eventual triumph of God. It is further distinctive that the servant suffers instead of others. “Surely, he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases” (53:4). Much argument can be expended on whether the servant is a person or representative of the nation as a whole. In the original context of Isaiah, the case is best made as a representative of the nation.

The earliest Christian theologians looked back on this passage and made the explicit connection to Christ. It is not so much a fulfillment of prophecy as a living out of God’s eventual triumph that takes place in and through the cross. The careful reader will also note the deep element of confession in this passage. “All we like sheep have gone astray.”

John 18:1–19:42

There is so much contained in these powerful chapters of passion that a simple dramatic reading invites the listener to step back into the text. The text of Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion fits carefully in the context of the original Passover celebration narrative. The dialogue between power and passion is something we know full well. John is careful to show that the various prophecies are fulfilled. Nothing in the text will let us escape the real horror that happened. Nothing in the text will allow us to deny the reality of death. Don’t jump ahead to Easter but dwell on the sacrifice. Reflect carefully on the public nature of crucifixion and the heartrending reality for the original disciples. Live in Good Friday spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually. Ours is an Easter faith, but Easter makes sense only in light of Good Friday.

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