But Jesus is not the only one held in this story. Pilate and Herod are held too, by their position and their power. They cannot make Jesus confess, but nor can they quieten the crowds. In the end they are held by fear. They cannot find the courage to do what is right - to stop holding Jesus and set him free - so they do what is expedient in order to hold on to their power.
The two criminals are held also, physically but also emotionally. Desiring to hold on to life - and which of us does not want to do that- one of them pleads for help, 'save yourself and us!' But it is the other, the one who is able to let go of illusion and self deception, whom Jesus is ultimately able to liberate. As so often, freedom is found in letting go. So we might ask ourselves today, to what am I holding on, and what might I need to let go of in order to be set free?
For then there are the people who want to hold on to Jesus - the women who follow, beating their breasts and wailing for him. Jesus rebukes them, not because he is not grateful for their care, but because he knows that clinging in these circumstances is a waste of energy. There is action they can and should take, beyond mourning for him. In this Jesus holds them in his love, as indeed he does all those involved in this senseless act of violence - 'Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.' Jesus holds us - but as soon as we try to cling on to Him, we will find we have an idol. Holding on to faith in the face of despair is an act of trust and letting go; but clinging to any fixed set of beliefs or ideas about God becomes more about our ego driven desires than about God. So again, what today do we need to let go, in order to be set free?
And what of beholding? The word behold has two senses, both simply to see and more intently to gaze upon. It is a word that invites our attention , 'look', 'see what is happening'. This story invites us and the characters within it to behold.
Some of them simply cannot see. Herod for example had wanted to see Jesus 'because he had heard about him and hoped he would perform some sign.' But Jesus is not a performing conjuror and no sign is forthcoming so Herod loses interest and never truly sees him at all. Do we truly see Jesus, or do we too just expect him to perform for us when we want?
Pilate on the other hand examines the evidence closely and can see no reason to condemn him. Yet in spite of the evidence of his own eyes and ears, he chooses not to behold him. Ever done that? Ever had the evidence of someone's integrity and innocence right in front of you, and chosen not to see it? I am sure many of us have. Then as now being passive spectators of violence and injustice is an everyday matter, whether we think for example of the treatment of refugees, the killing of the innocent in acts of war, or the disproportionate incarceration of our indigenous brothers and sisters here in Australia, all of us have our blind spots and our places where we become wearied from the protest and cease to speak out. What today are we being invited to see?
The centurion sees. 'When the centurion saw what had taken place he raised God and said, 'certainly this man was innocent'. This man, this Jesus, was a man who saw the women, who saw the criminals, who saw his torturers and forgave them all. This was a man who showed us that the love of God is without condition or limit and that the love of God holds and beholds us beyond every evil, pain, or failure we can imagine or inflict.
We are told that his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, that his friends, stood at a distance watching these things. They beheld what happened. They did not run away like many of his disciples, nor run off like the crowds who suddenly found they had bitten off more than they could chew. They give us a clue as to how to be in the face both of the human inclination to kill others by the most vile means possible, and in the face of our own reluctance to die to our own ego driven desires and needs. They teach us how to see.
They simply remain and behold. They do the one thing that most matters for anyone on the threshold of life and death, they hold the space. They do not, and cannot attempt to change anything, or impact the outcome. They don't judge or question why Jesus has allowed Himself to end up in this mess. They do not try to fix the unfixable. They stay with him and show us how to stay with all the places in our lives and worlds that cannot be changed or fixed. They undertake the sacred task of witness, of simply beholding.
Consequently Jesus dies betrayed but still beloved, by those who have the courage and faith simply to behold him. In dying he transforms all whom He beholds, and in turn we are invited both to see Him and be seen by Him in a transformative gaze of love. Will we take up the invitation , today of all days?
For as Richard Rohr has written, “Most of us were taught that God would love us if and when we change. In fact, God loves you so that you can change. What empowers change, what makes you desirous of change is the experience of love. It is that inherent experience of love that becomes the engine of change.”
Jesus loved everyone, the good, the bad, his friends, his foes, to the end and beyond. That love was and is transformative. It offers us an example of what it is truly to behold one another, to know ourselves held in the common embrace of God's love no matter what. And this gives the possibility of hope, the only true antidote to despair.
For if there is one thing that is vital on this Good Friday and on every day when violence and despair threaten to overwhelm us it is to uphold hope. Hope is the gift that slips in through the cracks in hospitals and jails and battle fields. When in the midst of all that threatens our very being we encounter God, and find ourselves in that very place held and seen and loved, then our heart opens to hope.
So take the time today, here in our service, at home, as you walk and talk with those you love, to allow yourself to behold this love of God for you, and let yourself be transformed by the hope it brings. Behold God and let God behold you, just as you are. Let the love of God hold you, and all that binds you and our broken world and remember again why we call this Friday 'Good'. Amen
by Penny Jones, for Good Friday 14 April 2017