Each year during Holy Week I try to spend time reading and reflecting on Jesus’ last days – not as one who preaches or teaches, but as a Christ follower – one who seeks to understand and identify with what Jesus went through for me (for you). This morning as I read Luke 23 I began to think about the lasting impact Jesus had in his very brief encounters with so many different people during his last hours.
There is a phrase that we hear used during this week: “Three days that changed the world.” In historic church lingo these days are called the Triduum, the three day period from late Maundy Thursday/Good Friday to Easter Sunday. Truly these three days did change the world – but they also changed lives. They were made up of brief encounters persons had with Christ. Consider, for instance, the following individual encounters we read about in Luke 23 in the hours before, during and just after Jesus’ crucifixion:
- Pilate: In two appearances before Pilate (Lk 23:1-6, 13ff) it is apparent that he wants nothing to do with judging or condemning Jesus. Pilate looks for a loophole (Jesus’ nationality) and sends him to Herod; tries to wash his hands of Jesus’ fate (Mt 27:24); and offers to release Jesus as a political appeasement (though the crowd cries instead for Barabbas). Was this all politics, or did Pilate’s time with Jesus give him pause?
- Herod: In Luke 23:8 Herod is only too glad to have an audience with Jesus, having been curious about him and his miracles for some time. He peppers Jesus with questions, but receives not a word in reply – proving once again that words are not always needed to communicate. In his discomfort with the interchange he gives in to ridicule and mockery – proving himself more adolescent than statesman. (One thing Luke does tell us – 23:12 – is that Pilate and Herod became friends as a result of their collaborative association over Jesus. How often, I wonder, did they discuss the events of that day?)
- Simon of Cyrene: A visitor to Jerusalem the day of Jesus’ crucifixion, Simon is conscripted by the Roman soldiers to bear his cross. (Lk 23:26) Can you imagine being pulled from the crowd to become an active (forced) participant in carrying out a death sentence? Surely this brief encounter with the Savior left an imprint on Simon’s life. What passed between these men – anything? Words? A look? Jesus’ blood that had previously stained the cross? Compassion? Empathy?
- Two Criminals: The two men put to death alongside Jesus are also first introduced to him in his last hours. Persons have long noted their different responses to Christ – a stark reminder that people have and exercise a choice when it comes to Jesus: anything from humble contrition and confession to blatant defiance and rejection. Which criminal do you best understand? Why? Don’t you marvel that Jesus, in the midst of his agony and suffering, was responsive to their needs?
- The Women: Perhaps the most tender moment in the path to Calvary comes as Jesus, beaten and bloodied, addresses the women who trail behind him – weeping and wailing. “Daughters” he calls out to them, but not so much in comfort as in warning, “don’t weep for me but for yourselves and your children.” What do we make of such words from one who is only moments from being nailed to a cross?
- Joseph of Arimathea: The final person mentioned in Luke 23 is one of the religious leaders of Jerusalem, a member of the council, who apparently was a dissenting vote when it came to decisions involving the condemnation of Christ (v.51). Joseph, perhaps until that time a secret follower of Christ, takes the risk of asking for Jesus’ body, that he might give our Lord a decent burial. Imagine being the one who touched, carried and cleaned the body of Christ, moving it from Golgotha to the garden tomb.
We’ve probably all had brief encounters that have stayed with us through our lives. Maybe it was when we got to shake hands with the sitting president, or talked with an important leader, or survived a scare to our health or safety. These momentary incidents left their imprint on us. We find our thoughts drifting back to them, sorting out the experience, it’s meaning and purpose. Maybe, as a result, our life took a new path; or our attitude a new posture. Maybe we’ve looked back with regret, with gratitude, or something in between.
If you are a Christ follower, or you would consider becoming one, there is (or may be) such an encounter in your past between you and Jesus. You, like one of these persons remembered in Luke 23, have shared a moment – a connection – during which the love, passion and compassion of Christ was extended. But these moments of grace are only significant when we respond to them, embrace them, and allow them to draw us close to Christ or propel us forward in His name and mission.
Let me invite you to come to Easter over these 3 days and their few hours as one who remembers (or maybe discovers) a brief encounter with Christ and gives thanks for its lasting impact.