Good Friday Reflection

by David Morson

It is believed that the English Term ” Good Friday” describing the most dramatic day in the events of Holy Week may have come from the German of the Anglo Saxon Church, “Gottes Freitag” or ” God’s Friday.” Although the results of what happened that Day transformed our world, from our human perspective, it is difficult when hearing or reading the narratives about what happened to Jesus, to describe it as “Good”. Because of our love for Jesus, it makes it difficult for us to to consider His suffering. But, what must be remembered, is that it was His Great Love for us which enabled Him to bear it. Jesus’ Passion cannot be divorced from the “Passion of His Life” which was to instigate the “Kingdom of God”, bringing about a world of love, justice and peace. The dominant powers of Temple Authorities and Roman Rule did not accept this because it challenged the powers they had created for themselves.

Both St Mark and St Luke record that Caiaphas and the Chief Priests and their followers brought Jesus to Pilate, “early in the morning” ..”at daybreak”. After Judas had led them to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and the rushed illegal Trial Before the Sanhedrin, The Chief Priests were anxious to remove Jesus, before the Crowds who followed Him, started to gather and before the Sabbath. Here it must be remembered that the Jewish Day started at sunset on the evening before.

St Mark provides us with a timetable of the Day. Jesus was crucified about 9am. By noon the earth had turned dark and at 3pm ,”Jesus gave up His Spirit and died.”So, the trial before Pilate must have been very early in the Day.

Each of the four Gospels have slightly different features of Jesus’ Trial Before Pilate, although the common theme in all four, was Pilate’s reluctance to sentence Jesus to Death. In Matthew, it is Pilate’s wife who warns him, ” not to have anything to do with that innocent Man”. It is in Luke’s Gospel that once Pilate realises that Jesus is from Galilee, he transfers Jesus to Herod Antipas the Tetrarch or Ruler of Galilee, in the hope that he will deal with the case. In St John’s Gospel, Pilate has Jesus scourged and mocked in an attempt to gain the pity of the crowd to release Him in favour of Barabbas, whilst Matthew and Mark have the scourging and mocking as the prelude to crucifixion. Luke does not mention the mocking.

All of these tactics by Pilate failed, as did his attempt to exchange Jesus for Barabbas. Jesus was presented as a “King,” a “threat to Rome” by the Chief Priests. They made it personal. If Pilate did not act, then,”he was no friend of Caesar.” Given his past history of being reprimanded by Rome, Pilate capitulated and ordered Jesus to be crucified. He had one last victory however, by writing the notice, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” to be fixed to the cross, thus, turning the claims of the Chief Priests against them.

Jesus’ journey from Pilate’s residence to Calvary is at least a kilometre if not more, and as those who have been blessed to follow Jesus’ footsteps on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem, it is largely up hill. Crucifixions happened outside the City Gates as a public warning to those who dared contravene Roman Law and Authority.This extreme punishment was reserved for slaves and agitators against Roman rule.

In many paintings of the Crucifixion there is a skull at the foot of the cross as Calvary, in Hebrew “Golgotha”, translates as “place of the skull”.Traditionally in Art, the skull represents Adam and the death and condemnation He brought to the human race, whilst, in contrast, Jesus’ Death brought life and salvation.. A further tradition states that the wood of the cross came from the same tree in the Garden of Eden. Obviously this is only conjecture but based in a continuous view of our redemption.

Besides the immense physical suffering, Jesus faced psychological trauma.

He was challenged by the Chief Priests, in similar vein to the Devil’s Temptations at the start of His Ministry, ” If You are the Son Of God, come down from the Cross and we will believe in you”. But Jesus’ Mission was not to convince by miracles or spectacular events but by Love.

Because it was The Sabbath, the Jews demanded the bodies be taken down.

The legs of the two thieves crucified with Jesus were broken so they could not push themselves upwards to breathe and would suffocate, but when they came to Jesus, He was already dead, so the Centurion opened His side with a spear to ensure that was the case.

A wealthy man, Joseph of Arimathea went to Pilate and asked for the Body of Jesus and had it laid in a Tomb. The Chief Priests went to Pilate saying, this Imposter claimed that He would rise again in Three Days and demanded that a guard be put outside of the tomb to prevent Jesus’ disciples stealing it and claiming He has Risen.

Finally, Mary, the Mother of Jesus, must not be excluded from this Story. When Jesus

Lent reflection: Herod Antipas

4/April/2020
by David Morson

Before we begin our journey through Holy Week, day by day, I conclude some background to three other figures in the dramatic story of Jesus’ last week.

Herod Antipas is best known for ordering the beheading of John The Baptist, who had been a critic of Herod’s adultery with Herodias, his brother’s wife.
But other factors are important concerning his interest in Jesus. His father Herod the Great had been paranoid about the coming of a Messiah as we know from the Christmas stories relating to the Three Kings and the prophecy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. His anxiety was increased because he was deeply unpopular with Jewish people because he relied on Roman favour and protection to maintain his Kingship. Neither was he Jewish as he came from the province of Idumea.
When he died, the Romans ended the monarchical system and Herod’s family moved to Rome with the exception of Herod Antipas his younger son who was given rulership of Galilee and Perea in the North of Palestine by the Romans. So, Herod Antipas too owed his tenuous position to Rome and built his residence on the shores of Lake Galilee which he named Tiberius in honour of the new Emperor.
In the Passion narratives, it is only St Luke who mentions that once Pilate realised that Jesus came from Galilee, he tried to shift responsibility for Jesus by sending him to Herod Antipas who was in Jerusalem for the Passover.
We are told that he was intrigued to see Jesus as like his father he was deeply concerned about any new potential King. He requested a miracle, but Jesus remained silent and Herod mocked Him and sent Him back to Pilate.

Judas Iscariot who is known for his betrayal of Jesus was one of the twelve apostles. Tradition has it that he was responsible for finances in whatever form that took. We are not certain what made Judas betray Jesus but are told in Matthew’s Gospel that it followed from the incident when a woman anointed Jesus with some expensive ointment at Bethany at the home of Simon the Leper. We are told Judas went to the Chief Priests and was paid 30 pieces of silver to look out for an opportunity to betray Jesus. It is believed that when Judas left the Last Supper to tell the Jewish Authorities that Jesus would be in the Garden of Gethsemane, the other apostles may have assumed that he was distributing charity, but this is only surmise. Other theories relate to is name “Iscariot” which in Latin translates as “sicarius”. These literally were “dagger carriers” and referred to anti Roman terrorists, possibly Barabbas. Could Judas have wanted Jesus to prove He was the Messiah? No one really knows. However, we do know that Judas did not expect Jesus to be crucified as the result of his betrayal, because he tried to return the 30pieces of silver and hanged himself in remorse for what he had done.

Simon Of Cyrene is known as the man forced to help Jesus carry His cross. The Centurion in charge of the crucifixion was worried that Jesus might die before He reached Calvary. As the officer in charge, he was responsible to see the sentence carried out otherwise he could be subject to the same fate.
So Simon was chosen from the crowd of onlookers at random. Simon came from Cyrene in Libya. There was a synagogue in Jerusalem build by Cyrenian Jews and he was in the City like many other pilgrims with his two sons, Rufus and Alexander. Tradition has it that this experience greatly affected Simon and we are told in the Acts of the Apostles that on Pentecost Day the people of Cyrene were one of the first to believe in the Resurrection.

Lent Reflection: Caiphas

03/April/2020
By David Morson

Another major character of Holy Week is the High Priest Joseph Caiaphas.

Although the High Priest was considered to be the spiritual leader of Judaism, he was appointed by the Roman Procurator. Joseph Caiaphas was given his position as High Priest by Pilate’ s predecessor Valerus Gratus. He was the Son in Law of Annas the previous High Priest and generally the appointment of High Priest came from a few elite families. Because of this relationship, the High Priest had to be somewhat conciliatory to the Roman authorities, but as we saw yesterday, the Roman Procurator had the task of keeping the peace whilst not antagonising the Religious Authorities. So, it is likely that Pilate and Caiaphas met regularly to discuss matters relating to their joint concerns.

Caiaphas is remembered for handing Jesus over to Pilate for execution following a mock trial.

The High Council or Sanhedrin consisted of 70 members who judged cases of religious contention. In theory they could pass the death penalty by stoning for extreme cases, but this power had been taken away from them by Rome.

There is no doubt that Trial of Jesus was illegal as it contravened the following rules of the Sanhedrin:
– A prisoner could not be tried at night
– The Trial could not take place in the House Of The High Priest
– All Members of the Sanhedrin should be present
– False witnesses would receive the same punishment as the accused
– Two independent witnesses had to agree their evidence before it could be used
– If the accused was found guilty and warranted the death penalty then there should be a further 24 hour period before any action was taken
– No prisoner should be subject to violent maltreatment

None of these conditions were followed in the Trial of Jesus. Caiaphas was determined that as he said “it is better that One Man should die for the sake of the Nation”. The climax of the proceedings came when Caiaphas asked Jesus if He was “the Christ, the Son of the Living God”. When Jesus replied that He was. Caiaphas ripped his garments as a sign that blasphemy had been committed, But, he knew that Pilate would not pass the death penalty for such a charge, so the next morning he presented Jesus as a political threat to Rome.

Lent Reflection: Pontius Pilate

02/April/2020
By David Morson

As we approach Holy Week I intend to try and do a Reflection about each day. But before that, I thought it might be of interest to know some of the background to some of the main characters. So I will start today with Pontius Pilate.

When Herod the Great died, the Romans ended the system of monarchy in Palestine. It was decided that Herod’s son, Herod Antipas should become Tetrach (ruler) of Galilee and that there should be a Roman Governor or Procurator, in command of Judaea where the capital Jerusalem was situated.
The role of the Procurator was primarily military to keep order. It was considered one of the least prestigious and most troublesome appointments in the whole Empire because of religious unrest.

Pilate was the 5th Procurator and served for some ten years between 26 – 36/37 AD. His military headquarters was on the coast at Caesarea, but he came to the Antonia Fortress in Jerusalem to maintain order at potentially volatile times, such as Passover when the city was crowded.
Before his appointment to Judaea we don’t know a great deal about Pilate. His name in Latin “Pilatus” could mean someone who was an accomplished soldier with the “pilum”, meaning spear,or the son of a free man. It is believed that he had been a member of the Praetorian Guard, the Emperor’s own Body Guard.
In the Gospels we are told that the turning point in the Trial of Jesus is when the crowd shouted that anyone who did not act against a potential King was ” no friend of Caesar.”

This is significant because Pilate had already been reported to Rome on three occasions for upsetting the Temple Authorities by his actions of bringing Imperial Standards and Shields into the Temple area as a show of strength and for forcibly taking Temple money to built an aquaduct from the sea to Jerusalem. Whilst, the Authorities in Rome proclaimed their Caesar as the “Son of God”, they tolerated the different religions of their provinces as a way of keeping peace and harmony. So Pilate had been severely warned not to antagonise the Religious Authorities in Jerusalem again. Pilate was eventually called back to Rome after a heavy handed military operation which led to the deaths of a group of Samaritans near Mount Gerizim.
Two final interesting points. In St Matthews account of the Trial of Jesus, Pilate’s wife has a dream and warns him not to have anything to do with Jesus, this just man. Tradition has it that her name was Procla and she was revered in the early Christian communities for trying to save Jesus.
Also, in the Coptic Eastern tradition, Pilate himself is revered, for, without his condemnation of Jesus there would have been no salvation.
More about Pilate’s role on Good Friday.

Lent Reflection: Hieronymus Bosch

01/April/2020
By David Morson

I was looking at one of my Art Books today and was struck by a painting by the Flemish Artist Hieronymus Bosch of Christ Carrying His Cross, painted sometime between 1500 – 1535. What is unusual about this painting is that it is a claustrophobic sea of faces only, with no full length figures, depicting the jostling mass crowd surrounding Christ on His way to Calvary. I counted 18 faces occupying the whole canvas. This is a most unusual treatment of this subject by artists and made me wonder why.

14 faces had been distorted by Bosch to convey grotesque ugliness, cruelty and arrogance, expressing their belief that they were in total control of proceedings. Yet, in the middle of these faces, in the centre of the painting, almost submerged by such cruelty and mockery is the calm and tranquil countenance of Christ

Bosch was a keen observer of human nature and the message I think he wanted to convey was that on a human level it was jealousy, cruelty. betrayal and injustice which led to Christ’s condemnation. The disciples abandoned Him, Judas betrayed Him, Peter denied Him, the High Priest brought false charges against Him, Pilate condemned Him out of cowardice and fear, the soldiers used violence and mockery It seems that Bosch wanted to vividly depict and reflect these unseemly and negative features of our human condition in the faces of the crowd leading Christ to His death.
Unlike Christ, who seems serenely immune to what is going on around Him, one of the thieves is aggressively arguing with his tormentors, whilst the other thief’s face is full of fear at the baying countenances around Him.

Two women in the bottom left corner, one of whom is Veronica, holds the cloth she used to wipe the face of Jesus which left the imprint of His Face on the cloth, images now known as “Veronicas” in the Church.

Here I think lies the key to the painting. All the other heads depicted are profiles, but on the cloth, the face of Christ looks out of the painting directly t to us the spectators. He challenges us to position ourselves in the context of what is happening, to reject actions that degrade our humanity, expressed in the countenances of the majority and to join with Him in a focused, single minded path, patiently treading our way in this Lent journey towards a state of union with His Father which is our goal and destiny.

You can Goole this painting with “Hieronymus Bosch Christ Carrying His Cross” if you would like to see it.

Lent Reflection: St Therese

31/March/2020
By David Morson

To think of the heroic sacrifice of the saints like Fr Maximillian Kolbe as we did yesterday, is both humbling and awe inspiring but can unintentionally give us feelings of inadequacy. That is why I am thinking today of our own Parish Patron, St Therese of Lisieux. Some of you were blessed to visit her shrine in our recent Parish Pilgrimage.

For me, what I find so endearing about St Therese is a humanity rooted in every day experience. We are able to associate with her in her struggles as a child, through her illnesses and her doubts. But, miraculously, it was this very humanity which enabled her to develop a profound spirituality which changes our consciousness forever and challenges our actions everyday.

In her, “Little Way”, she found immense beauty in the simple things of God’s creation, such as a flower and proclaimed the “sacred nature” of every action, however small when it is offered and undertaken as an act of love. She wrote, “Miss no opportunity to make some small sacrifice, a smiling look or a kindly word and doing the smallest thing for love”.

Her vocation and saintliness is a great solace to us all who are awed by those esteemed martyrs and saints who have been called to give their lives for their Faith. She calls us to the same devotion motivated by love, but in the simple everyday things we do.
In so doing,she echoed the vision of Jesus in her ” Little Way” when she said her life purpose was to make, “Heaven on earth” through the small acts of love, kindness and forgiveness that we too can all do.

Although she never claimed to be an academic or an intellectual, she was made a Doctor of The Church, like Catherine of Siena and Theresa of Avila because of the intense spirituality of her simple wisdom and the profound effect that it had. We are blessed to have her as our Patron.

Lent Reflection: Fr Maxillian Kolbe

30/March/2020
By David Morson

The nearest example that helps me understand Jesus’s sacrifice for us the most is that of one of the most recent canonised Saints of the Catholic Church Fr Maximillian Kolbe. Fr Kolbe was a Polish Priest arrested by the Nazi’s for his courageous outspoken criticism of the Nazi regime. He was imprisoned in Auschwitz.

One morning the Kommandant of the Camp assembled all the prisoners and randomly chose a number of them to die in the underground hunger cells in punishment for an escape the night before. Fr Kolbe was not one of the prisoners chosen, but one man who was chosen fell on his knees in tears, crying out that he would never see his wife and children again. Fr Kolbe then came forward and offered to take the man’s place. The Kommandant was puzzled and stunned by Fr Kolbe’s action, but agreed to the exchange.

Jesus had said at the Last Supper, “No greater love has any man that He who lays down his life for His friend.” Fr Kolbe demonstrated that ultimate sacrifice of love and also sustained the other prisoners in the cells with prayers and hymns until he was the last to survive and had to be physically killed with a saline injection.

Last week, Des sent us an article from the “Tablet” about how St Corona accepted death rather than denounce Jesus and her Christian Faith. Fortunately for us, it is unlikely that we will have to make such choices ourselves, but I am sure we have all heard of good people making sacrifices for others in an heroic manner, such as donating a kidney to another or a marrow bone. Mother Theresa sacrificed her life by helping in a seemingly helpless caring for those dying alone in Calcutta. During the Black Death St Alyoisius cared for his fellow brothers throughout the Plague until he himself succumbed to it just before it subsided.

For us, we can be overwhelmed by these examples of extreme goodness. But we too can share in the sacrifice of Jesus by doing whatever we do in our lives whether it be parents, employees, carers, husbands and wives, single people, if we do it out of unselfish love. We can give our lives for others in this way.

A wonderful conclusion to the story of Fr Maximillian Kolbe was that when John Paul II beatified him in St Peters, the man who he saved was present with his wife,children and grandchildren! So, Fr Kolbe’s sacrifice really did give new life to others, a form of resurrection,

Lent Reflection: Gardens of Eden and Gethsemane

29/March/2020
By David Morson

In this difficult time I have been thinking that those of us who are fortunate to have gardens have a little refuge from the outside world and its potential dangers. But this made me reflect on two Gardens in the Bible which had the opposite effect.

The Garden of Eden was a paradise of beauty and harmony whose security was broken by a pride and selfishness which introduced suffering and death and endowed it to all humankind as a consequence. The Garden of Gethsemane was the venue for a brutal and violent betrayal of the Innocent but which lead to the restoration of God’s life for all humankind.

St Paul refers to Jesus as the 2nd Adam in this context . Whereas, the first Adam was given everything by God, except the gift of knowledge which would destroy the vision of the world as God wanted it to be, Jesus as the 2nd Adam was to restore that very vision of God’s Kingdom on earth “as it is in heaven”. Just as the first Adam brought death by his disobedience in the first Garden,Jesus brought life by His obedience accepting death in the second Garden. Just as Adam severed his life giving relationship with God through his pride with consequences for us all ,so Jesus restored that life through His humble acceptance of those consequences even though He was not guilty of them.

Adam was the first head of the human race, who like us all, fell short of accepting God’s loving care. Jesus through His loving sacrifice reunites us once again with His Father Creator and offers all humankind a renewed sharing in that life in a new creation.

Lent Reflection: Jesus’ Sacrifice

27/March/2020
By David Morson

As we make our journey through Lent this year we have been starkly confronted with the Corona virus outbreak which has made us all realise how precious life is for ourselves and for our loved ones. As I look out of my window at the lovely village where I live, I see that people are obeying rules that restrict our movements with self-isolating and social distancing in order to protect ourselves, our families and one another. Preserving as strongly as we can the most precious gift we have, the gift of life.

As we approach the events of Holy Week what paradoxically comes into my mind is that Jesus was willing to forgo His life, not easily, but willingly. He deliberately put Himself in harms way by going to Jerusalem in order to fulfil His Father’s will. This was not a reckless action, but a fulfilment of His purpose in coming among us. By dying, Jesus let go of the precious gift of life that we all hold so dear, so that He could reveal the totally unselfish, unconditional love that is the Father.

St John refers to Jesus’ crucifixion as revealing God’s “glory” or real essence to us. The Life of God is in unselfish sacrifice. The Father needed the Son’s willing obedience to make this evident to the world. By associating with Jesus’ sacnfice of His Life in the Holy Eucharist, we too share in the life of God. Our lives and the lives of our loved ones are the most precious gifts we have and rightly so. But, as St Paul focuses our minds in his Epistle to the Romans, we may be willing to give up our lives for a loved one or a good person, but Christ gave up His Life for all humankind, so that we might know the inclusive love of the Father for all of us.

Lent Reflection: The Last Supper and The Paschal mystery

21/March/2020
By David Morson

The word “paschal” refers to new life and new beginnings at spring time when flowers start to shoot up and the darkness of winter begins to dissapear with the emergence of lighter days. It is no coincidence that the story of our redemption in Holy Week takes place at this time. The Holy Father set the exact date of Easter every Year at the 7th Nissan of the New Moon, which happens at the end of March to mid April. It is set at the same time as the Jewish Passover which Jesus both celebrated and transformed with His disciples.

In Greek,the word time has two meanings. “Kronos” from which we get our concept of time as everyday, chronological, second after second, minute after minute, hour after hour etc. But, there is also another word, “Kyros” which means a special time of significant happening. For us, it could be a birthday or anniversary, but for the Jews, the Feast of the Passover commemorated the ultimate Kyros when God intervened in history to free them from slavery in Egypt and make them His own chosen people, establishing a covenant or “agreement” that they were His people when they kept His Commandments given to Moses in the desert.

Likewise, for Christians the ultimate Kyros moment was God’s intervention in human history in the Person of Jesus.

For us, “kronos type meals” are everyday routine,breakfast, lunch and dinner. We need to ingest food, which becomes part of us, in order to give us the energy to live. But meals are also social events, sharing with others, family and friends or strangers in a restaurant or pub. Kyros meals such as birthday parties or anniversaries are celebrations and involve special people, special food items, eg. birthday cake and usually involve some sort of remembering or reflection.

For the Feast of the Passover, Jewish families assemble together from all over to celebrate and commemorate this special event in their history, Ingredients are important. In the Seder Meal, they have lamb to remind them of the sacrifice of the lamb they were told to make, so that the Angel of Death would Passover their homes. Bitter herbs remind them of their suffering and slavery in Egypt and eggs, the faithfulness of God. What is vitally significant is when families today eat the same Passover meal as their ancestors did over 3,000 years ago. They are not simply remembering or reflecting, but actually associating themselves with the same experience of salvation, now as then. By eating the same Meal they are actually united with the saving event.

In the same way, Jesus wanted to celebrate the Passover with His friends. The Gospels tell us that He arranged the room where the Meal should take place and He acted as host, washing his disciples feet as guests.

I would like you now to search “Jesus Of Nazareth The Last Supper” on iPlayer, and please watch it. It lasts 5 minutes 58 seconds.

What the extract does not show you is the arrival of the disciples dancing and chanting the psalms in great anticipation of the celebration. Instead, it starts when the mood changes to great intense solemnity as Jesus institutes the Eucharist in the first ever Mass.

I personally find Robert Powell’s portrayal of Jesus so moving throughout, but especially in this scene.

The extract shows all the elements of the New Passover Covenant or “agreement” with God where Jesus offers His own Body and Blood in an act of salvation for the whole world. He wants us to associate ourselves with His actions by partaking of the Bread and Wine which becomes His Body andBlood. He is the new Paschal, “Lamb of God”. This happens, because He lays down His life for us in the greatest possible gift of unconditional love. “No greater love has any man than He who lays down His life for His friends”. As such by His death, Jesus reveals the “glory” or real essence of God the Father and unites and restores humanity with His Life and Being.