The significance of Jesus’ death is enriched by the remembrance of previous suffering for the cause of God, classically represented in Isaiah 52:13-53:12. In the book of Isaiah, the servant of God is described as ill and disfigured, representing the people of Israel during the time of their exile in Babylonia after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 586 BCE. Recovery from that seemingly mortal wound becomes a classic symbol of how God can save when human resources are spent.
Psalm 22 also speaks of a comeback from apparently inevitable death, but its voice is of an individual rather than the collective represented in Isaiah. Jesus cites the psalm from the cross in the Gospel for Palm Sunday. In his case, actual death as well as suffering frames the situation addressed. The Epistle to the Hebrews 10:16-25 and 4:14-16; 5:7-9 make the significance of Jesus’ dying as well as his suffering explicit. Dying, in fact, is integral to Jesus’ victory in the presentation of Hebrews. His blood enables him to enter into the heavenly sanctuaries, where he alone serves as the true High Priest; in comparison with his sacrifice, the ceremonies in the Temple are only pale representations. John 18:1-19:42 simultaneously brings out both the dread and agony of the death and Jesus’ entrance into glory by means of the Crucifixion, a key theme in John’s Gospel. A stylized presentation contrasts Jesus’ confidence and certainty with the awkward hesitation of those who arrest him, the ambivalence of Simon—Peter—by both engaging in violence and retreating from the admission of being a disciple, and the indecision of Pontius Pilate. Those contrasts all serve to emphasize the necessity of the action unfolding as it does.
The First Reading
God’s Servant, Israel, Suffers for Others’ Sins
In this reading, Isaiah describes the servant of God as ill and disfigured, representing the people of Israel during their exile in Babylonia after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 586 BCE. The significance of the death of Jesus is enriched by remembrance of this previous suffering for the cause of God. Israel’s recovery from its seemingly mortal wound becomes a classic symbol of how God can save when human resources are spent.
- Take note!
My servant shall prosper,
shall be lifted and raised up and exalted exceedingly!
- Just as many were appalled by you—
so disfigured was my servant’s appearance from that of a person,
and his form from that of a human being—
- so he shall startle many nations;
before him, kings will shut their mouths.
For what was not told to them they shall see,
and that which they have not heard, they shall discern.
- Who believed what we have heard?
The arm of the Lord—to whom has it been revealed?
- My servant grew before God like a sapling, like a root out of parched earth.
We saw him, but his was no appearance that we would be drawn to him.
- Despised and rejected by people, a man of pain, who knows sickness, as one from whom people hide their faces;
despised, and we held him of no account.
- Though it was our sicknesses my servant bore,
our pains that he carried,
we considered him stricken,
struck down by God and afflicted.
- Yet he was wounded because of our transgressions, crushed because of our sins.
The chastisement that reconciled us was upon him,
and, through the blows he received, we were healed.
- We all, like sheep, have strayed.
We have each turned our own way,
and the Lord has struck him with the sin of all of us.
- My servant was treated harshly and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth.
Like a lamb led to slaughter
and like a ewe before its shearer is silent,
so my servant did not open his mouth.
- As a result of coercion and judgment he was taken, and who considered his fate?
For he was cut from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people, he was himself stricken.
- My servant’s grave was placed with the wicked,
his funeral mound with evil-doers,
although he did no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
- For the Lord desired to crush him, making him sick.
If he makes his life a guilt offering,
my servant will see progeny and will have length of days,
and what the Lord desires will succeed at his hand.
- Out of his suffering, my servant will see and be satisfied.
Through his knowledge, my servant will vindicate the many,
for he shall bear their transgressions.
- Therefore I shall mete out a portion to my servant among the many,
and with the mighty he will divide spoil,
because he poured himself out to death and was counted among the sinful;
and my servant, the sin of the many he bore;
and he made entreaty for the sinful.
A Plea for God’s Presence in a Time of Need
Psalm 22 presents an individual’s plea for salvation from apparently inevitable death. Jesus cites from the cross this psalm’s question: “My God, why have you abandoned me?” The use of Psalm 22 at this point in the liturgy makes Jesus’ actual death and suffering the concrete circumstance that the psalm addresses.
To the director, according to the Deer of the Dawn, a psalm of David.
- My God, my God,
why have you abandoned me so far from safety,
disregarding the words I roared in distress?
- My God,
I cry out each day, but you do not answer;
and at night, but I find no rest.
- Yet you are holy,
enthroned upon the praises of Israel.
- Our ancestors put their trust in you;
they trusted, and you brought them to security.
- They cried out to you and were rescued;
they put their trust in you and did not suffer humiliation.
- But I am a worm, not a human being,
reproached by individuals,
regarded with contempt by people.
- All who see me deride me;
they open wide their mouth,
shake their head:
- “Commit to the Lord;
let God bring you to safety!
God would save whomever God wanted!”
- Yet you brought me forth from the womb,
made me secure at my mother’s breast.
- Upon you I was cast from the womb;
from my mother’s belly, you have been my God.
- Do not distance yourself from me;
for distress is near,
for there is no one to help.
- Many bulls surround me;
the mighty ones of Bashan encircle me.
- They open their mouths at me,
like a lion, mauling and roaring.
- I have been poured out like water;
my bones are all out of joint.
My heart has become like wax,
melting within my insides.
- My power has dried up like a potsherd;
my tongue sticks to my jaws;
in the dust of death you deposit me.
- For dogs surround me;
a crowd of evil-doers encircles me,
hewing my hands and feet.
- I can count all my bones.
They stare gloatingly at me.
- They divide my clothing among themselves,
and for my garments they draw lots.
- But you, Lord, do not make yourself distant!
Hurry, my Strength, to my aid.
- Rescue me from the sword,
my precious life from the dog.
- Save me from the mouth of the lion;
from the horns of wild asses, answer me!
- I will declare your name to my kin;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you!
- Let those who revere the Lord praise God.
Let all the descendants of Jacob glorify God.
Stand in awe of God, all descendants of Israel!
- For God did not disdain and did not detest the affliction of the afflicted.
Nor did God conceal God’s face from that one.
Rather, when the afflicted cried out to God, God heard.
- From you comes my praise in the great congregation.
My vows I shall fulfill in the presence of those who revere God.
- The afflicted shall eat and be sated.
Let those who seek God praise the Lord.
May your heart live forever!
- All the ends of the earth shall remember and return to the Lord;
all the families of the nations shall worship before you.
- For reigning power belongs to the Lord,
and God rules over the nations.
- The robust of the earth all shall eat and worship God;
before God shall bow all who go down in the dust,
whom God did not preserve alive.
- Progeny shall serve God;
it shall be told regarding the Lord to the next generation.
- They shall come and declare God’s righteousness to a people yet to be born,
for God acted.
The Second Reading
Jesus’ Completion of the Covenant
The Epistle to the Hebrews refers to the book of Jeremiah to portray Jesus as offering the renewed covenant and forgiveness of which the prophet spoke. They are available from the moment of Jesus’ death and entry into the presence of God. His perfect sacrifice opens the true, heavenly sanctuaries to believers, so that literal sacrifice is no longer necessary. Jeremiah looks ahead to that reality, according to Hebrews, which it is the purpose of faith to grasp and hold firm.
Following the passage from Jeremiah, “This is the covenant that I will covenant with them after those days, says the Lord; giving my laws upon their hearts, I will also inscribe them on their minds,” Jeremiah’s conclusion is found: “and their sins and their lawlessness I shall no longer remember.” Where these have been forgiven, there need no longer be offering for sin. Brothers and sisters, we have confidence in the entrance into the sanctuaries by Jesus’ blood, which he initiated for us—a fresh and living way through the veil (that is, his flesh). We also have a Great Priest over the house of God, and so should advance with true heart and in certainty of faith. Sprinkling hearts from evil conscience and washing the body with pure water, hold to the unswerving confession of hope, because the one who promises is faithful. Strategize to provoke one another into love and good works, not forsaking our assembly (as is the tendency of some), but encouraging our own, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
or Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9
Jesus’ Example of the Obedience of Suffering
The Epistle to the Hebrews dedicates itself to the theological argument that, as the Son of God, Jesus is both offered in sacrifice and is the High Priest of the offering. Combining these roles is part of the perfection which shows that literal sacrifice was only a symbol, not a command to be repeated forever. In his sacrificial action, however, Jesus also suffered, and Hebrews stresses that point in one of the briefest and yet most affecting portrayals of Jesus’ emotions prior to the Crucifixion. For Hebrews, these feelings reinforce Jesus’ connection with all believers.
So having a great High Priest who has passed through to the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, we shall grasp the key principle. Because we do not have a High Priest who is unable to suffer with our weakness, but one tested in every way equally—without sin. So we shall come forward with confidence to the throne of grace, that we might receive mercy and find grace for swift help.
In the days of his flesh he offered prayers and supplications to the one able to save him from death with loud outcry and tears, and he was heard for his reverence. Although a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered, and, perfected, he became the basis of eternal salvation to those who obey him.
The Death of Jesus
By this stage in Holy Week, the Gospel according to John has prepared the way for the final events of Jesus’ life. Jesus is aware of the inevitability of his death, and knows that it is his glorification. Now the presentation of the arrest, trial, and execution of Jesus stresses the contrast between Jesus and those who act, yet do not understand: Judas and the arresting officers, Peter, the High Priests Annas and Caiaphas, Pilate, and the soldiers. The Roman authorities act in concert with the leaders of the “Judeans,” the inhabitants of Judea as governed by the laws of Rome. They cooperate with one another, fulfilling the Scriptures of Israel without any awareness of what they do. Only a few on the scene understand the significance of events: Mary Magdalene, Jesus’ mother and his mother’s sister, the beloved disciple (unnamed, but described in John as intimately familiar with Jesus), and prominent Judeans previously in contact with Jesus—Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus.
Having said this, Jesus went out with his committed students across the Wadi Kidron, where there was a garden that he entered with his students. Judas, who delivered him over, also knew the place, because Jesus often gathered there with his students. So Judas—having acquired the cohort and assistants from both the high priests and the Pharisees—came with lights and torches and weapons. Jesus knew everything that was happening to him, and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” They answered him, “Jesus the Nazorean.” He said, “I am he.” Judas, who delivered him over, also stood with them. When he said to them, “I am he,” they backed away and fell to the ground. Again he questioned them, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus the Nazorean.” Jesus answered, “I said to you that I am he; so if you seek me, let these depart” (so that the word he said might be fulfilled: “Of those whom you gave me I lost not one”).
Simon Rock—Peter—had a sword, so he drew it and struck the High Priest’s slave and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus. Jesus then said to Rock, “Put the sword into the sheath! Should I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” The cohort and the commander and the assistants of the Judeans seized Jesus and bound him and conducted him to Annas first, because he was Caiaphas’ father-in-law, who was High Priest that year. And Caiaphas had counseled the Judeans that it was beneficial for one man to die on behalf of the people.
Yet Simon Rock followed Jesus, and another committed student, and that student was known to the High Priest and entered with Jesus into the courtyard of the High Priest, but Rock stood by the door outside. Then the other disciple who was known to the High Priest went out, spoke to the maid who kept the door and conducted Rock in. Then she said to Rock, “You are among the committed students of this man!” He said, “I am not.” The slaves and assistants stood and had made a fire, because it was cold, and warmed themselves; Rock also stood with them and warmed himself. Then the High Priest questioned Jesus about his students and about this teaching. Jesus answered him, “I have spoken publicly to the world; I always taught in congregation and in the Sacred Place where the Jews come together, and I said nothing in secret! Why do you question me? Question those who heard what I said to them; see—they know what I said!” When he said this, one of the assistants who stood by struck Jesus on the head, saying, “You answer the High Priest this way?” Jesus answered him, “If I spoke wrongly, attest what was wrong, but if well, why do you hit me?” Then Annas dispatched him, bound to the High Priest.
Simon Rock stood and warmed himself, and they then said to him, “You also are among his students!” He denied and said, “I am not!” One of the slaves of the High Priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter cut off, said, “Didn’t I see you in the garden with him?” Then again Rock denied, and at once the cock sounded.
Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas to the praetorium; it was early and they did not enter the praetorium, so that they might not be defiled, but might eat the Pascha—Passover. Pilate came out then, outside to them, and stated, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” They answered and said to him, “Unless he had been doing wrong, we would not have delivered him over to you.” Pilate then said to them, “Take him yourselves, and judge him according to your law.” The Judeans said to him, “It is not permitted us to put anyone to death”—so that Jesus’ word might be fulfilled, which he said signaling by what death he was about to die.
Pilate then entered the praetorium again and summoned Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Judeans?” Jesus answered and said, “Do you say this on your own, or did others speak to you about me?” Pilate answered, “I am not a Judean! Your nation and the high priests delivered you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus’ answered, “My kingdom is not of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, my subordinates would fight for me, so that I might not be delivered over to the Judeans, but now my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate then said to him, “Accordingly, you are a king.” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I am begotten and for this I have come into the world, so that I might witness to the truth. Everyone who is from the truth hears my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” Having said this he went out again to the Judeans and said to them, “I find no case against him. There is a custom among you so that I release you one man on the Pascha. Do you then wish that I release you the King of the Judeans?” Again they shouted, saying then, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Yet Barabbas was a thug.
So then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him, and the soldiers, having twisted thorns into a crown, put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came to him and said, “Welcome, King of the Judeans,” and were striking him on the head. And Pilate again went outside, and said to them, “See I bring him outside, so that you might know that I find no case against him.” Jesus then went outside, wearing the thorn-crown and the purple robe; and Pilate said to them, “Look—the man.” Then when the high priests and the assistants saw him, they shouted, “Crucify, crucify!” Pilate said to them, “You take and crucify him! For I find no case against him.” The Judeans answered, “We have a law, and according to the law he is obliged to die, because he made himself out to be God’s Son.”
When Pilate heard this word, he became more frightened,and he entered the praetorium again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus did not give him an answer. So Pilate said to him, “You do not speak to me? Don’t you know that I have authority to release you and I have authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would not have any authority against me unless it were given you from above. For this reason the one who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” From this point on Pilate sought to release him. But the Judeans shouted, saying, “If you release this man, you are not a friend of Caesar; anyone making himself king opposes Caesar.” Pilate heard these words, then brought Jesus outside and sat on a tribunal at a place called “Stone Pavement,” and in Aramaic, Gabbatha. Yet it was preparation of the Pascha, about the sixth hour, and he said to the Judeans, “See—your King!” Then they shouted, “Take him away! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The high priests answered, “We do not have a King, except Caesar!” So then he delivered him over to them so that he would be crucified.
Then they took Jesus along and, carrying the cross for himself, he went out to what is called the “Skull’s Place,” that is Golgotha in Aramaic. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on each side, so Jesus was in the middle. But Pilate wrote and placed a notice on the cross, and it was written, “Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Judeans.” Many of the Judeans read this notice, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek. So the high priests of the Judeans were saying to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Judeans,’ but that ‘He said, I am King of the Judeans.’” Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”
Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took his garments and made four portions—for each soldier a portion, and his cloak, but the cloak was seamless, woven from the top throughout. Then they said to one another, “We shall not tear it, but choose by chance whose it shall be,” so that the Scripture might be fulfilled that says: “They divided my garments among themselves, and for my clothing they cast a lot.” Then the soldiers did this. Yet by the cross of Jesus stood his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary of Klopas, and Mary Magdalene. Then Jesus, seeing his mother and the committed student standing by whom he loved, said to the mother, “Woman, look—your son.” Next he said to the student, “Look—your mother.” And from that hour the student took her into his care.
After this, Jesus, knowing that already everything was accomplished, so that the Scripture might be accomplished, says, “I thirst.” A vessel full of vinegar lay there; then putting a sponge full of vinegar on hyssop they brought it to his mouth. Then when Jesus took the vinegar, he said, “It has been accomplished,” and inclining his head he delivered over his spirit. Since it was Preparation, so the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (because the day of that Sabbath was great), the Judeans requested of Pilate that they might break their legs and they might be removed. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who was crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus, as they saw he had already died, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a lance, and immediately there came out blood and water. And the one who saw has testified, and his testimony is true, and he knows that he speaks truly, so that you too might believe. Because this happened so that the Scripture might be fulfilled, “Not one of his bones shall be broken.” And again another Scripture says, “They shall look on whom they have pierced.”
After these things, Joseph from Arimathaea—being a committed student of Jesus, but a hidden one for fear of the Judeans—asked Pilate that he might bear away the body of Jesus, and Pilate permitted. Then he came and took his body. And Nicodemus also—who had come to him at night the first time—came carrying a compound of myrrh and aloes, around a hundred pounds. Then they took Jesus’ body and bound it in wrappings with the spices, just as is custom among the Judeans to bury. Yet there was a garden in the place where he had been crucified, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. There, then, because of the Preparation of the Judeans, because the tomb was near, they put Jesus.
- Following the reading found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Masoretic text: “In his death.”
- Reading ‘oseh ra’ instead of ‘ashir,’ “the rich.”
- Jeremiah 31:33.
- Jeremiah 31:34.
- John 3:14.
- Psalm 22:19.
- Psalm 69:22.
- Numbers 9:12 (regarding the Passover offering).
- Zechariah 12:10.