Summary: Four Episodes from John's account of the Passion, including four sonnets by Malcolm Guite - Jesus is Condemned to Death; Jesus is stripped of his garments; Crucifixion: Jesus is nailed to the cross; Jesus is laid in the tomb.

[All Sonnets are from "Sounding the Seasons ; seventy Sonnets for the Christian Year", by Malcolm Guite, Canterbury Press 2012. Used with permission -]

1. Jesus is Condemned to Death - Sonnet 1

John 18:19-24; John 18:28-38

The moment of judgement has arrived. Jesus is brought to Annas, then Caiaphas then to Pilate. John leaves out the brief excursion to Herod’s palace. Each of these men has the opportunity to examine Jesus and make a judgement about who he is. But none of them are able or willing to make a definitive statement. They ask lots of questions, to which Jesus gives very guarded answers but no firm judgement is made. Even when Pilate asks the Jewish leaders what the charges are they fail to say what he’s done wrong.

It’s clear though that they have made a judgement of a kind. They tell Pilate "We are not permitted to put anyone to death." Whatever the crime is, it requires a sentence of death.

So Pilate quizzes Jesus on the claim that he’s the King of the Jews. But Jesus answer turns the tables on Pilate: "Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?" Suddenly Pilate is the object of judgement. Jesus might just as well have asked him: “Who do you say that I am?” as he once asked his disciples. But Pilate doesn’t answer.

So Jesus takes it further: "My kingdom is not from this world”, he says. “If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here."

Then Jesus adds: "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."

What we discover in that moment is that the judgement we’re witnessing isn’t so much of Jesus as of those who stand around him. In fact this is an ongoing theme in John’s gospel. John 3:19: “19And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.” John 5:24: “24Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life.” John 9:39: “39Jesus said, "I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.”

John 12:48-49: “48The one who rejects me and does not receive my word has a judge; on the last day the word that I have spoken will serve as judge, 49for I have not spoken on my own, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment about what to say and what to speak.”

Pilate’s response to Jesus is to brush him off with a flippant “What is truth?” He doesn’t realise that he stands before the one who is the Truth, the one who’s not only the King but the creator of our world. His blindness is made all the more obvious by his unwillingness to set Jesus free, even though he’s found no case against him.

But of course it isn’t just Pilate who stands judged in this encounter. The Jewish Priests and Pharisees are judged because they too are blind to who Jesus is. They blithely announce that he claims to be a king yet can’t see the truth in that claim.

In the passage we skipped over, Peter fails to stand up for Jesus and is judged by the crowing of the rooster as dawn approaches.

And dare I say that we too are faced with judgement as we think about our own responses to Jesus. We may worship him as Lord but are we totally faithful to him at every moment of our lives? Do we make him our Lord and King in every decision we make? Do we proclaim the truth of what Jesus has taught us and done for us, even when faced with the sort of aggressive opposition that Peter was faced with?

Can you see that it’s actually our failure to do all that that led Jesus to this moment? Jesus stands in our place at this moment, not before the judgement seat of Pilate but before the judgement seat of God, taking our place, facing the judgement that we deserve; and he does it willingly out of his great love for us, as our king, taking our place in order to bring us eternal life.

Sonnet I: Jesus is condemned to death

The very air that Pilate breathes, the voice

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