" Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, 'Jesus of Nazareth King of the jews'. Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Latin and Greek. Then the Chief Priest of the Jews said to Pilate " Do not write 'King of the Jews' but 'this man said I am the king of the Jews'. Pilate answered "What I have written I have written" (Jn. 19: 19-22)

 

 

You will have see seen the letters 'INRI' on alter falls and pulpit falls in many of our chapels and churches. This refers to Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews from the Latin. The reading lets us into the spectacle of the Jewish leaders in a continued textual, theological and political dispute with Pilate. For Pilate there was a need to assert his position and not further to capitulate to the demands of the Jewish leaders; hence his refusal to do their bidding. Also, even Pilate, who probably had sent many victims to be crucified before Jesus, I suspect, had a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach about this execution. The evidence would seem to suggest that he knew of Jesus' innocence but abrogated his judicial responsibilities, for fear of riot and the potential damage to his future political aspirations. The demand of the Jewish High Priest was one step too far. The request needed to be slapped down and their religious noses ground into the dirt beneath the cross where Jesus hung.

For the Jewish religious leaders there was a persistent need to insist that Jesus was 'a man'. There must be no hint of his being other than a misguided, fallible, blasphemous man. No doubt the failure to have the inscription altered or removed took the edge off what many of them must have seen as an outright victory over Jesus and his followers. Jesus was dying, almost dead. He was gone and the disciples would be scattered and wiped out. Only the wisdom of the Jewish Rabbi and theologian Gamaliel, later hit on the truth, that if it was all a fad or populist fantasy then it would soon be forgotten; if however, it was the truth, then nothing could prevent its truth from being realised.

I cling on to that thought as this Passion and Eastertide we have missed so much. The mystery of the Maundy Thursday service; the stripping of the Communion table and the Lenten cross laid bare. I shall miss the solemnity of our Good Friday service with the liturgy of the Reproaches of God read from our service book. The sound of nails driven into the cross. The hymnody for the day and how we quietly melt away after the service. All is quiet. I take hold of the words:

Holy God, holy and strong,
holy and immortal:
have mercy on us.

These words speak to me at this time. I know of our need of the Holy God who is both strong and immortal and that I, indeed we, stand in need of his gracious mercy. This Good Friday, is it too much to claim that not for many a long year have we known the desperate glory and equality of the ground at the foot of Jesus' cross? In this spirit we do not look at Jesus merely as a man, but as the One, the Messiah, the hope of our salvation; the Son of the living God.

Every blessing this Eastertide,

Simon.

Revd Simon H Leigh: Superintendent minister, Plymouth and Devonport Circuit.