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Good Friday, March 29, 2013

“Hey there, you three. It is time to go,” said the guard harshly. It is time for your executions. If you believe in a god, now is the time to say your prayers.” The three condemned men were unchained and brought roughly to the door of the cell. The guards took each one firmly by the arm so they would not escape and began to lead them to the crucifixion site.

Just then, another centurion came running up to them. “Release Barrabas,” he said. “Pilate has ordered it.” “Why should we let him go?” the guards responded. He is a convicted murderer, and he deserves to die.” “I know,” said the centurion, “but this man is the one the Jews want released as their Passover gift. Instead they want to crucify someone called Jesus of Nazareth. They say he called himself the king of the Jews, the Messiah and the Son of God.” “Well, OK, if Pilate wants it,” said the guards. They turned to Barrabas and said, “You are free to go. Get out of here. And watch what you do or you’ll be here again, and the next time nobody will call for your release.”

So Barrabas went. He ran, in fact, wanting to get away before Pilate could change his mind. Whew, he thought to himself. That was close. There I was almost on the cross, and they decide to crucify some itinerant preacher instead. I wonder why. I’ve heard of Jesus, but all I heard was that he did deeds of power – healings and exorcisms and feedings. Since when has that been a cause for crucifixion Maybe because of all those titles they used for him and said he used for himself. Well it doesn’t matter. I’m free, and that’s what counts. I did all that they say I did, and I’m not sorry. I’m just sorry I got caught. But I’m a lucky man, and now I can go about my business. But first I think I’ll blend into the crowd and watch these other poor losers die.

Barrabas disappeared into the crowd and watched as they put the two thieves and Jesus on the crosses and stood them erect in the ground. Then he watched as the soldiers cast lots for Jesus’ clothing. Barrabas had no love for Roman soldiers, and he thought that was a harsh thing to do. He felt just a little sorry for the men on the crosses because he knew crucifixion was a terrible way to die.

The crowds were avidly watching everything that went on, but all around him Barrabas heard murmurs about what a good man Jesus was – how he had accepted everyone including tax collectors and sinners and even ate with them. He had healed this person, that person had been one of the 5,000 fed by the five loaves and two fish. Another had watched him do an exorcism.

Barrabas began to have a change of heart. Survivor’s guilt and remorse caught up with him. “It should have been me up there,” he thought to himself. “It should have been me. I was the rebel. I was the murderer. I was the one convicted of crimes that merited crucifixion. But Jesus didn’t do anything wrong. He is an innocent man, yet here I stand rejoicing in my own freedom when I feel like I should be running out there saying, ‘No, a terrible mistake has been made. He is innocent, and I am not. I deserve to be up there, and he does not.’ But I know I am not going to do that. I am too afraid they might just put up a fourth cross and hang me on it. I want to live a good long life.”

Barrabas also began to feel some remorse for his crimes. “I should not have murdered those people during the rebellion,” he said to himself. “I wanted their money, and they would not give it to me, so I killed them and I took it. I am beginning to see that it was wrong to do that. Maybe this Jesus and what I hear about him is changing my mind. But how can I possibly be forgiven for my sins. I haven’t darkened the door of a synagogue or the temple in years. I don’t even know if the priests would accept a sacrifice from me. But they say that this Jesus is the Son of God. Does that mean he is a follower of God or does that mean he is really God’s Son and can forgive my sins? I don’t know, but I wish it were possible. Look at him there handing over his mother to one of his disciples to be taken care of, thinking of someone besides himself even at this awful moment. He is a much better man than I could ever hope to be. But they say he ate with sinners. Is it possible that he would accept me? Is it possible that he could even love me, after all I’ve done?”

“There, he is dead. It is over. Whatever good he did on earth is gone. It is too late for me. I will be a marked man for the rest of my life, just like Cain was for murdering Abel. I will be an exile from my community, alone in a crowd.” Barrabas went away from the crucifixion a broken man.

We too view the crucifixion as broken people. We have sinned against God and our neighbor, and we deserve to die too, because separation from God means death. We feel remorse and guilt as Barrabas did. A terrible injustice was done on that Good Friday so long ago. But we know, like Barrabas did not, that the story was not finished. We know that Jesus didn’t die a purposeless death. Instead he died to free us all from our sin and reconcile us with God. Good Friday is a day of penitence for us, but it is also a day of good news. God’s love in Christ is shown for us in its most tangible way. God willingly gives Godself to our hatred and fear and pride and lets God incarnate die on a cross. We owe Jesus the possibility of our lives being made whole again. Our only response can be profound gratitude.

AMEN

  - Rev. Ann Barker