The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s022g12 Good Friday  6/4/2012

'They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover.'   John 18.28

I vividly recall many years ago getting out of my car to go to a meeting in the church office on the other side of the road to the cathedral.   As I walked along a man walking in the opposite direction stopped me and asked if I was one of 'them' - indicating the cathedral across the road.   It was at the time when there was some media hype about clergy sexual abuse, and so I wondered what was coming.  While I wasn't one of the cathedral clergy, I said that yes I was one of them.   He then went on to say how he had just heard that he didn't have testicular cancer and he was just so grateful.   Whereas I was preparing myself to duck to avoid a left hook, here he was brimming with gratitude to whatever God because of the good news he had just received.   His telling me was his way of telling God.   He didn't want to linger or detain me, just tell me, and we both went on our way rejoicing.

As I read the passion according to St John again, I was startled to realise how much too-ing and fro-ing Pilate did.   By my count he went in and out 5 times.  In verse 29 Pilate goes out to question Jesus' accusers, then again in verse 38 after his discussion about kinship and truth, then in verse 19.4 after offering them Barabbas and having Jesus flogged.   He must have gone out after the discussion about where Jesus was from for he again tries to free Jesus in verse 12, and finally he goes outside again to pass judgement.   Pilate really was between a rock and a hard place.

It has been traditional to note John's anti-semitism in this context, and there is no doubt that there is a good deal of evidence for that.  However John does repeat things to make a point in other places, and the place I want to put beside this is Peter's three-fold denial of Jesus, predicted in 13.38 and enacted in 18.17,25 & 27.   Like I was unnecessarily apprehensive as to why the man on the street wanted to know if I was 'one of them', Peter may well have been unnecessarily reticent about admitting to his following Jesus.   Those who questioned Peter may have wanted to console him or to get a first hand account of who Jesus was.

So also I want to point out that Pilate - the symbol of all that is profane - seeks to free Jesus, whereas Peter - the 'rock' on which Jesus was going to build his church, is in denial.   Our 'faith' is no guarantee that we are on the right path.   Peter actually doesn't totally desert Jesus, he is just outside, warming himself, but still exposing himself to inconvenient questions.

Jesus enters into the place of full ritual defilement, into the entirely secular.   The orthodox and the devout stay well away.   Peter is just outside.   And the question is for us too: do we cherish our orthodoxy and devotion and not enter the secular and so avoid ritual defilement, or do we, like Peter, wish we had the guts to enter the secular and be with Jesus?

For the promise of Jesus is not that we will enter nirvana or wherever, but that we will enter fully into the secular world around us, where we will be welcomed, not derided; where we will be defended from the howls and screams of the orthodox and the devout until they have their way.   Jesus was actually safer in the protection of Pilate than he was in the midst of the orthodox and the devout, and I suspect this is as true just as much now as then, in the midst of 'christian' orthodox and devout, even as they are chanting the name of Jesus.

The real passover is enacted, not in the midst of the orthodox and the devout, but in the very epitome of the secular and the profane.   I am glad I am not part of a church that has a service of Holy Communion on Good Friday - which speaks to me of how exclusive the Communion has become - how much of it is about orthodoxy and devotion rather than incarnation into, and blessing of, the profane.

So for me it is sad that John is accused of anti-semitism, when he is really pro incarnation, denied as often by orthodox and devout ‘christians’ as by the orthodox and devout of his day.  

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