St John 19: 31 – 37 Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows[g] that he tells the truth.) These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, ‘None of his bones shall be broken.’ And again another passage of scripture says, ‘They will look on the one whom they have pierced.’
Reflection Here, within the holiness of the day of Preparation for Passover is ‘business as usual’. As the priests begin their paschal slaughtering, the writer’s parallel with Jesus as the Paschal lamb is overwhelming. When Pilate orders that their legs be broken so that they might die sooner, we learn that Jesus is already dead. The mention that none of Jesus’ bones are broken echoes the instructions for the preparation of the Passover Lamb as the perfect offering. By his sacrifice, Jesus becomes the new Passover Lamb thus removing the sins of the world. Whilst the original Passover Lamb led to the liberation of a people from bondage, the new Passover Lamb liberates the world from sin.
When a soldier pierces Jesus’ side to make sure that he is dead, it is to remind us of the writer’s claim that Jesus willingly gave his life that we might have life, and in abundance, “so that you also may believe.” For the writer, blood and water point to Jesus as the source of life and this final act of violence against Jesus becomes an image declaring that life flows out from Jesus’ death.
This is the beauty and the pain of the Incarnation. The Word became flesh to be crucified, to be pierced and eventually placed in a tomb. It is such flesh that reveals the amazing and extravagant love of God.
Jesus lays down his life in love for those whom he loves, and, in doing so, the meaning of both ‘life’ and ‘love’ are redefined. Such selfless love becomes the only true source of life. It is this love of Jesus to which we are called: to give to the end without counting the cost or holding back.
Such extravagant and amazing love demands my soul, my life, my all. What will this mean for me?
The Rev’d Nicola Furley-Smith, Secretary for Ministries.