EASTER READINGS – JOHN – SESSION 15

INTRO We have explored together the Prologue and its ‘high Christology’ of the eternal pre-existent Word that is made Flesh among us and seen subsequently how it truly introduces the key themes of the Johannine Gospel and many of the characteristics of the Johannine community which gave birth to it. We explored the ‘Book of Signs’ the Signs Jesus gave so that all could ‘see and believe’, but they did not, and how the Signs speak of Baptism and Eucharist so powerfully. We saw the growing conflict leading us to the ‘Book of Glory’, beginning with the arrival of the Greeks seeking Jesus and moving quickly to the Last Supper, the Washing of the Feet and the so-called ‘Farewell Discourses’ of Jesus giving the Church of all places and all ages our priority – to love! We saw yesterday how these fundamental themes of Jesus’ teaching are gathered up in His great ‘High Priestly Prayer’ in John 17 – a prayer for a ‘communion for mission’ which is the Church’s very nature if we are to be the community of Jesus’ disciples animated by the Jesus-Love that is the Holy Spirit. 

[1] And now we come to that ‘Hour of Glory’ which is the Passion of the Lord (John 18-19). It is worth spending a moment reflecting on the nature and purpose of the Passion narratives in all four Gospels, for they are remarkably similar, especially when we consider the diversity of approach between the Four Gospel, and especially the between the Synoptic Gospels and John’s Gospel. Their similarity testifies to the unity of faith in those earliest scattered Christian communities that gave birth to each Gospel. They also testify to the historical truth of Jesus’ suffering, crucifixion and death. The Passion, death and Resurrection of Jesus is the heart of each Gospel, the core of each Gospel, because it is the heart and core of our Christian faith and the heart and core of our Proclamation of the Good News. What was preached by that earliest Church was the historical fact of the Crucifixion of Jesus and the Faith reality that His death brought salvation to the world, the conquering of Death and the Forgiveness of Sin and opened up for all who believed the gates of God’s mercy and a new life in Christ. And our access to this ‘New Life in Christ’ was the ‘re-birth’ in Baptism (our ‘Passover’ into Life in all its fulness), being part of this missionary community of sharing and love (so powerful that the healings of Jesus took place once more among and through them)  – a missionary community nourished and united  by Word and Eucharist. So accounts of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus were the first to be formulated, because they were the first to be preached. Then were added the accounts of the ministry of Jesus as preparation for the Passion and an expansion of His Teaching, as well as the accounts of the Ascension of the Lord and some of the Resurrection appearances. Because they were formulated later explains in part why there are differences between all four Gospels (as well as the ‘theological agenda’ of each originating community). It is interesting to note in passing how diverse the accounts of the Ascension are: this was not even included in the original conclusion of Mark’s Gospel and is quite absent in John’s Gospel (at least as a separate event to the ‘lifting up’ on the Cross in the ‘Hour of Glory’). But I will explore this nearer our celebration of the Feast of the Ascension. And finally the so-called ‘infancy narratives’ were added, and then  only by Matthew and by Luke – and both very different accounts.  It is also worth remembering that the Gospels as we have them took years to develop and find their origin in what we call ‘oral tradition’ (like most of the Bible!) – that is they were passed on by word of mouth long before they were written down. The preaching of the Gospel was the priority for that earliest Church, not the writing down of the accounts. And the Gospels were aids to preaching, not a replacement of preaching, a tool of Evangelisation not a substitute for it, a manual for Evangelists not a subject of study for scholars! So St Paul (his are the earliest writings in the New Testament) never had a New Testament to refer to!

[2] Now to turn to the Passion in John’s Gospel. I have already noted that the ‘Farewell Discourses’ are longer than the account of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus and this is significant. In so many ways these final discourses of Jesus are a prolonged meditation on His Passion and Resurrection, the tool as it were to help us understand the depth of what is happening in Jesus’ Death and Resurrection – His ‘Passover’ and ‘Hour of Glory’. It is worth noting some of the differences between John’s Passion and that of the Synoptics, as these differences indicate the fundamental themes of the Gospel as a whole. Firstly, there is no ‘institution narrative’ of the Eucharist (I have already commented on that in earlier sessions) – the Last Supper highlights the washing of the feet and farewell discourses and precedes the Passion narrative. Then Jesus is not described as in prayer or in ‘agony’ in Gethsemane – but rather immediately the arrest takes place in the unnamed Garden in the Kedron valley. Those who come to arrest him fall to the ground when Jesus says ‘I am He’ (John 18: 5) (as Moses fell to the ground before the burning bush on the Mountain, where God revealed His Name ‘Yahweh’ – ‘I am who I am’  and called and sent Moses to be liberator of His People (Exodus 3: 1-15). Jesus also says ‘let these other go’, words that speak of Jesus’ mission to liberate and Moses words to Pharaoh – ‘Let my People go!’ (Exodus 5:1). Jesus then appears before Annas, the High Priest, less of a trial (which in reality took place earlier in the Gospel – their verdict already made (John 11: 47-50) but rather a setting for Peter’s threefold denial and a preamble to his trial before Pilate.  Again Jesus is in control rather than Annas. Jesus’ death was already sealed because of His supposed ‘blasphemy’ in ‘claiming equality with God’ (John 5: 18), but his trial before Pilate is based on his identity as Messiah King and the political danger to the Roman Empire (John 11: 48). But John shapes the trial as the trial of Pilate before the Truth, rather than the trial of Jesus. It is a proclamation of the true Kingship and authority and power of the The Word made Flesh, of Him who is the Way, the Truth and the Life’ (John 18: 36-37). It becomes a proclamation of His Mission. And the High Priest and others are forced to blaspheme themselves as they say ‘We have no King but Caesar’, thereby denying the Kingship of God over Israel (John 19: 15). Jesus has come to His ‘Hour of Glory’ – not as a helpless lamb led to the slaughter, but as the Servant King, authentic authority who ‘dies for the scattered Children of God’, the High Priest offering the sacrifice of Himself that replaces all other sacrifices.

AFTERWORD Who is the authority in our lives, who is the authority in the Church – Jesus’ servant authority, or the cultures and societies that we have been brought up in. Do we allow the ‘hostile world’ determine and rule us  – or the Gospel of self-sacrificing love?

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