In observance of Good Friday, our resident novelist, Ben Roberts, wrote a reading and response to the narrative of Jesus’ sacrificial death. We pray it blesses you as you remember the gospel today.
The Last Supper
The sun sank over the olive groves in the west, and across Jerusalem the doorways were smeared with sacrificial blood. This was Passover, the culmination of high holy week, and though the city was ruled by Rome—occupied by soldiers under the command of procurator Pontius Pilate—families gathered to remember how Jehovah had liberated their ancestors.
When the table had been set and all of His followers had assembled, Jesus—who had been their Rabbi, their Lord—took a towel and a basin of water and washed the feet of his followers. They questioned this: it was a chore for a servant.
But, Jesus continued the task, saying, “You are right to call me Rabbi and Lord, but I tell you a servant is not greater than his master. A messenger is not greater than the one who sent him.”
Then the group took their places at the table, and as they passed the matzo, the unleavened bread, Jesus said, “One of you will betray me.”
His followers were horrified. It confirmed their fears. Hadn’t they heard rumors in Jerusalem? Weren’t the religious leaders conspiring in the temple? But, betrayal by a follower?—this was unthinkable.
Each questioned him, saying, “Not me, Rabbi. Tell me it’s not me.” Jesus looked at Judas, who had already received his blood money from the conspirators. He said, “Go. Buy what we need for the feast.” And, Judas went out into the night.
Then Jesus took the matzo and blessed it and broke it and gave it to each of his followers, saying, “This is my body, broken for you. Take it and eat.”
He took the Passover cup of new wine and gave thanks to Jehovah God and offered it to his followers, saying, “This is my blood—the blood of the covenant, which is shed in atonement for many, for the forgiveness of sins.”
His followers did as he instructed, and Jesus said, “I will not eat or drink with you again until we meet in my Father’s house. After I’m gone, you will have each other. Continue to offer this bread and this wine in remembrance of me. You must love one another just as I have loved you. By this simple act, the whole world will know you are my followers.”
Jesus, unite us in fellowship. As we remember you, unite us in communion.By the power of your Holy Spirit. Jesus, blessed is your name on high. Your love for us is infinite. Jesus, let us love one another As we know you love us. To know this love, Jesus, To know the love of your Father, To know your Holy Spirit here among us now. This is eternal life. Hallelujah. Amen.
Later that night, Jesus walked with his followers through the olive groves of the Kidron Valley. Many of them were worried, and Peter approached him to say, “Rabbi, I will stay with you through any difficulty.”
But, Jesus told him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you’ll deny me three times.”
They rested in a garden outside the temple walls. Jesus often came to this spot to pray, and this was where Judas led the mob. They found Jesus, surrounded by a group of drowsy followers who all fled when they saw the swords and clubs of the crowd. Only Jesus remained.
Judas approached him, saying, “Rabbi,” and kissed Jesus on the cheek.
Then the mob seized him and brought Jesus to the religious conspirators. They proceeded to accuse him without due process of the law. Jesus listened to the accusations but said nothing.
Caiaphas, the High Priest, asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed?”
Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of power and coming with the clouds of heaven.”
Caiaphas tore his garments and screamed, “What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy.”
At the first light of day, they hauled him to the Roman court. Pilate questioned Jesus and found him blameless, but the crowd chanted, “Crucify him. Crucify him.”
To avoid a riot, Pilate washed his hands of the business and sentenced Jesus to death.
Jesus’ trial is troubling from a legal stand point. Jewish law prohibited the opening of a trial at night. Jesus was assigned no defender. The allegation of blasphemy was not a capital offense, and trials for capital offenses required at least two days. From the standpoint of Roman law, Jesus was found innocent, and yet he was sentenced with the most extreme penalty of the law simply to keep the peace. In other words, these proceedings were not merely unjust—the trial was illegal. Worse still, Jesus was abandoned by his closest followers. Even Peter denied him three times, cursing and insisting that he didn’t know beloved teacher.
Jesus, you were a laughing stock to people who did not know you. Jesus, you were outlawed from human company. You were accused like thief and murderer. Jesus, we have betrayed you to mockery, injustice, and disbelief. Jesus, we have belittled you. We have made much of ourselves. We cry out to you, Lord Jesus. You understand our suffering and sorrow. Give us strength to remain in you, even in our own final dreadful trial. Amen.
Following Pilate’s orders, the Roman troops took Jesus into the praetorium, stripped him naked, and forced a crown of thorns onto his head. They beat him with a barbed whip, flaying the skin off his back. As he stood there bleeding and trembling in shock, the soldiers laughed, bowing and calling him your majesty.
Once they were bored with this sport, the soldiers forced Jesus to march through the city, dragging the cross on which they would execute him. He was weakened by the beating. So the soldiers forced a passerby to carry the cross. In this way, they went to a rock quarry east of the city, a place called Golgotha because it looked like a human skull. There the soldiers tied Jesus’ arms to the cross and drove long metal spikes between the two bones of his forearms. His feet they pinned together with a single metal spike through bones of his ankles. Then they lifted the cross into the air, dropping the base into a hole, and left him there to die.
Death by crucifixion is slow. The body gradually asphyxiates. In order to draw breath, Jesus had to lift himself by the nails piercing his arms and legs.
A crowd gathered to mock him, shouting, “You’re the Son of God. Come down off that cross.” The carrion birds circled overhead. Dogs waited beneath.
After several hours of agony, Jesus said, “It is finished,” and bowed his head and gave up his Spirit. The soldiers thrust a spear through his abdomen into his heart and lungs, and he was officially declared dead.
Jesus, you are the image of the invisible God, The firstborn over all creation. For you, Jesus, all things were created, Things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, All things have been created through you and for you.
Jesus, you are before all things, And in you all things hold together. You are the head of the body, the church. You are the beginning, The firstborn from among the dead.
Jesus, God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in you. Through you we are reconciled. You made peace through your blood, shed on the cross. Jesus, in our sin, we were once your enemies. In your grace, we are now your brothers and sisters.
By your atonement alone we are holy in God’s sight. In you alone, we are without blemish, free from accusation. Lord let us continue in faith, established and firm, Lord Jesus, give us strength to remain forever In the hope of the gospel. Hallelujah. Amen.
Ben Roberts (@Benstolemyname) is a follower of Christ & an editor at both Gospel Centered Discipleship & the speculative literary journal, Unstuck. A graduate of the Michener Center for Writers, he lives in Austin with his wife, Jessica and son, Solomon. They fellowship and worship at Austin City Life.