Can written words expose hidden, heartening truth?

I contributed the following on Good Friday to the 2019 “PictureLent” daily devotional series, written primarily for adults. PictureLent is a ministry of the Rio Texas and the Michigan Conferences of The United Methodist Church.

Each day’s devotional is based on a word found in the Lectionary scripture, which for Good Friday was John 19:14-22.

My word was “Write.” Here is my devotional. I hope that you find meaning in it. May Easter be a restorative time for you.

The daily word is “write”?? Where does that word show up in the story of Jesus’ crucifixion?

A slow re-reading reveals the answer:

Pilate wrote a sign and put it on the cross. It read: ‘JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS’   (John 19:19, ICB).

Showing the placard on the cross above Jesus' headDid you know that it was customary at a crucifixion to attach a placard above the condemned person, with their name and their crime?

This makes sense. Romans performed crucifixions in public locations as a deterrent.

To ensure that everyone could read an edict, it was composed in the three major languages of the time—Hebrew (Aramaic), Greek, and Latin. Those observing would want to know what sorts of activity to avoid!

Written words proclaim Jesus’ identity: The King of the Jews.

John’s gospel reports that this phrasing caused consternation among the Jewish Temple leaders, who protested to Pilate. They didn’t want Jesus labeled as their King, giving the impression that this claim was in fact acknowledged.

They told Pilate: “Don’t write, ‘The King of the Jews.’ But write, ‘This man said, I am the King of the Jews’” (verse 21b). Pilate’s answer: “What I have written, I have written!” (verse 22).

It was as if Pilate issued a proclamation of the gospel: Here is your King!

Follow this thought: Perhaps Pilate was constrained by the size of the piece of wood. What if he had a bigger piece? There could have been so much more to write! But Pilate was also limited by his understanding. With our post-Easter view of the situation we would add more, writing:

Here is your suffering King. (But see how this means he understands your suffering?) Don’t worry, death will not be the end; it will be a new beginning! You can live free from the hurt and pain of your past! You are forgiven! All is grace. Welcome to the new you!

What words do you wish could be written about who you are – this new you?

Undertake another exercise with me: Imagine you have died. (Don’t worry; it was painless.) Your family and friends have gathered together to write your obituary. In the manner of Pilate’s defining epithet, what would you like them to write—not what do you think they might write about you—but what truths do you long to hear?

For me, I would hope they could write:

Creative Carol, a survivor, a life-long learner, one who embodies a meaningful picture of Jesus for others, who bravely points out God-present, and always with us.

Many of us lack healthy self-worth. Today, let the cross change you!

Who do you aspire to be?

Me with 'who I am' words written on a clipboard

Surprise: God already sees you that way!

A Short Prayer:
Nurturing God, the words that you use to describe us are so different than the ones we use on ourselves! On Good Friday, when darkness and death take center stage, may we be reminded that our old ways of thinking can change. Help us to see ourselves with the same delight and expectation with which you see us. Amen.

An Action Challenge:
For friends and family that you encounter today, consider what sign would be placed over their head.
Name a positive trait you see in them. Tell them about it.

Discussion/Reflection Questions:
1. Who is Jesus to you? What would you write on the sign above Jesus’ head?
2. Do the obituary exercise. (Don’t worry about the exact sentences; just write key words.)
3. Write some of these better-feeling thoughts about yourself on a piece of paper. Take a selfie holding your new words. Share on social media tagging #pictureLent


Photo credits…
Placard above Christ by Luciano Ramos Solari from Pixabay, released under Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Public Domain.
Selfie with defining written words, copyright from my archives.

Holy Week: What is good about Good Friday?

How about some more family discussion on our journey through our series on Holy Week? Even though this day was full of sadness.

Remember: scroll down just until you see a “Time Out. Talk About…” question. Read the question with your group and allow everyone to share their answers. Scroll some more to see the answer. A good reason for computer time!

The judgment of Jesus

Time Out. Talk about…A speech bubble Why do you suppose it’s called “Good Friday?” What can be good about the day Jesus died?

an empty crossActually there is no known correct answer to this question. The Friday before Easter being called “Good Friday” could have come from the shortening of an English phrase “God’s Friday” much like the word, “good-bye” originally started off as “God be with you.”

It certainly wasn’t a good day for the followers of Jesus back when it actually happened; they had to watch him be killed.

We can call it “good” because we can look back on the day Jesus died, from our perspective of knowing what happened on Easter!

But we are getting ahead of ourselves; there are still the events that happened on Friday of the very first Holy Week. When we left off yesterday, Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane

Time Out. Talk about…A speech bubble Jesus was arrested in the garden, but what happened next?

Jesus had a long night. (It was late at night when he was arrested). He went through a series of trials, was beaten, whipped, spit upon, treated badly, and sentenced to die on a cross—a humiliating and cruel form of torture and execution.

Time Out. Talk about…A speech bubble But why were the people who had Jesus arrested so determined to kill him?

The simple answer: Fear. (Unfortunately fear can result in hatred.) The Sanhedrin had ordered Jesus’ arrest. The Sanhedrin was a very powerful Jewish court made up of religious leaders. They were threatened by Jesus, his message and his popularity. The gospels portray the Sanhedrin as a group most interested in preserving their own power and position.

Time Out. Talk about…A speech bubble What was it that happened with the man named Barabbas? (To hear how Barabbas is pronounced, go here.)

It was the practice at Passover to let one prisoner go free. Pilate (the Roman governor) offered to release Jesus, but the crowd demanded instead the release of Barabbas, a known robber and murderer. The gospels make it clear that Pilate did not believe that Jesus was guilty. But the crowd yelled, “Crucify him.” Pilate eventually succumbed to the will of the crowd and ordered Jesus to be whipped and then to be crucified.

Time Out. Talk about…A speech bubble What does crucified mean?

Jesus was killed by a process called “crucifixion;” we say he was “crucified.” This is where a person is either hung on a cross or nailed to a cross (the latter in Jesus’ case). It was a horrible way to die. (Thank goodness we don’t do that anymore!)

Time Out. Talk about…A speech bubble (No right or wrong answers here!)

  • Have you ever been accused of something that you didn’t do? What happened?
  • When have you seen or heard about an instance of hatred that probably stemmed from fear?
  • When have you given in to the pressure of what the “crowd” wanted to do? How did you feel about this?
  • What do you suppose happened to Barabbas? (The Bible doesn’t tell us.)

Stay tuned for the next installment of our series on Holy Week.

Photo credits:
Photos are from my archives. The painting of the Judgment of Jesus was taken in Corfu, Greece. Unfortunately I failed to note the artist.
Speech bubbles via, in the public domain.