John includes some details of the crucifixion that we don't find in the other gospels. Verses 31-37 have no parallels. What is it about these specifics that are important for John to include?
The standout for me is the piercing of the side of Jesus to make sure that he was really dead. Blood and water pour out from his wound. On one hand, this is a rather gruesome account. It is almost as if we are adding more insult to the injuries we have put upon Jesus. But I believe that John has other motives in giving us these particulars.
|Blood, life and death|
are often mixed together
for us in ways that are earthy
and quite clear.
Some in the early church claimed that Jesus didn't really suffer death but only seemed to suffer. They believed he was spirit and so this shows that he was really flesh and blood. For the same reasons, the Apostles' Creed states that Jesus "suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried" so as to avoid any confusion around his mortality.
Some scholars have suggested that the blood and water that pour from Jesus remind us of the sacraments of Holy Communion ("This is my blood shed for you") and Baptism ("I will give you living water"). The sacraments offer new life that begins with the sacrificial life of Jesus Christ.
John also refers to Zechariah 12:10 which states,
And I will pour out a spirit of compassion and supplication on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that, when they look on the one whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.All four gospels share that Joseph of Arimathea is the one to bury Jesus in the tomb. John adds Nicodemus as a helper who now tends to Jesus in the light of day.
As we consider our own role, it may be that Jesus is safer to tend to when he is dead rather than living. When Jesus is dead, it is easier to assert our own will. When Jesus is dead, our faith doesn't have to be challenging but rather becomes a comfort only.
As we think about the death of our Lord on this Good Friday, it may be helpful for us to confess how we have kept Jesus buried in the tomb from time to time.
Prayer for the day:
O Lord Jesus Christ,
take us to yourself,
draw us with cords to the foot of your cross;
for we have no strength to come,
and we know not the way.
You are mighty to save, and none can separate us from your love.
Bring us home to yourself, for we are gone astray.
We have wandered: do seek us.
Under the shadow of your cross let us live all the rest of our lives,
and there we shall be safe. Amen.
Frederick Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury, 19th century,
Photo by Canadian Blood Services via Flickr.com. Used under the Creative Commons license.