ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, by whose Spirit the whole body of the Church is governed and sanctified; Receive our supplications and prayers, which we offer before thee for all estates of men in thy holy Church, that every member of the same, in his vocation and ministry may truly and godly serve thee; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
O MERCIFUL God, who hast made all men, and hatest nothing that thou hast made, nor wouldest the death of a sinner, but rather that he should be converted and live; Have mercy upon all Jews, Turks, Infidels, and Hereticks, and take from them all ignorance, hardness of heart, and contempt of thy Word; and so fetch them home, blessed Lord, to thy flock, that they may be saved among the remnant of the true Israelites, and be made one fold under one shepherd, Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.
Cranmer’s Collects for Good Friday begin with the family and move to the Church. It is a mystery and a wonder that God’s plan for salvation was just a person of flesh and blood. Behold the man. Not just any person, of course, but the Son of God. He was mocked, scorned, scourged, tortured and crucified in order that we might be redeemed. His blood dispensed with the blood of animals and sealed the New Covenant.
But Jews, Turks, Infidels and, ominously, heretics are not covered by the saving act of Jesus unless they enter the Church’s fold. The Jews were a familiar target; the Turks, after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, pursued an aggressive anti-Christian campaign which brought them to the gates of Vienna in 1683; Infidels had been the target of the Crusades and were still possessors of the Holy places and although all but the first had been disastrous, there was a lingering attachment to the idea; and Protestantism had not been slow to requisition the Roman Church’s treatment of heretics among which some of its more radical adherents were numbered.
The list is history, and more than a little distracting on this most solemn of days when our minds should be fixed on the suffering and death of Jesus rather than on a brief guide to factionalism. There is the spiritual death of hard heartedness all around, but in the Eucharist is life; before that historically transforming mystery all theological controversy and intrigue must fall.
The hearts were hard enough in Jerusalem on that fateful morning. Pilate did not show off Jesus in his crown and robe because he was sorry for him but because he hoped, in this piece of theatre, to show how trivial the whole thing was and, when it failed, Pilate dismissed him and washed his hands of the problem. But the Jews, who had their own backs to watch, kept on justifying themselves against Pilate’s charge of trivia. To frighten Pilate, Jesus was portrayed as an impostor but not even that could move Pilate who, surely in jest, referred to Jesus twice as “your king”, no doubt reflecting sarcastically on the claim of Jesus that all earthly power, including that of Pilate, came from him. The religious authorities lead Jesus away, mouthing the hypocritical platitude that they have no king but Caesar but Pilate has the last laugh. He cites Jesus on his inscription as King of the Jews which goads his accusers into a challenge; but the plaque remains to taunt them. After the familiar reference to Jesus’ clothes, John’s Passion takes a singular turn as Jesus commends his mother and the Apostle John to each other. The women are at the foot of the cross. This serene Jesus drinks the proffered vinegar and says: “It is finished.” John recounts Jesus’ side being pierced with a lance, so bereft that there is only a drop of blood; and then water.
John brings us, through the depiction of the utter serenity of Jesus, to a point of silence. For Mark Jesus is the Son of God, for Matthew the King, for Luke the Saviour; but for John, this is the Lamb of God who goes to the slaughter like the animals in Hebrews, ritually bled so that no drop of blood remains in him but is poured on the ground.
Today is a time to reflect, remember, re-enact how our sin brought Jesus to his death on Calvary and what that death meant for our sinfulness and redemption.
Let us reflect indeed. Ecce Homo.