Good Friday is a day during which most Christians hear the Passion according to John. In many liturgies they also hear Psalm 22 and Isaiah 52:13-53:12 (the fourth Servant Song), and both played a major part in the formation of the traditions around the crucifixion. The early Christians saw the Hebrew Scriptures as a testament to Jesus the Messiah, and so used verses from them, as we have seen in Hebrews and Paul’s Letters to the Romans and the Philippians.
Today’s second reading from the Daily Office Lectionary is nowhere as significant as the three heard in the Good Friday Liturgy, but it offers evidence of what the first generations of Christians were thinking when they used such verses. The First Letter of Peter was probably not written by Peter, but by someone writing a generation after him, and who desired to use his authority to offer comfort and exhortation to persecuted Christians in what is now central Turkey.
1 Pet 1.10–20
Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that was to be yours made careful search and inquiry, inquiring about the person or time that the Spirit of Christ within them indicated, when it testified in advance to the sufferings destined for Christ and the subsequent glory. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in regard to the things that have now been announced to you through those who brought you good news by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look!
Whatever modern historico-critical method might suggest, early Christians, following in the traditions of Jewish scribes and Pharisees, believed that the prophets themselves were inspired by the Spirit of Christ to write about the Messiah. Christians read the Servant Songs and the Psalms as referring to the Messiah as one who suffers. They were also read as prophesying the vindication and victory of God, and that God’s people would be gathered together to be with God forever.
Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed. Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’
If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile. You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake.
The author describes the readers of the letter as “exiles”. A follower of Jesus is never at home in the world, because the world is never what God would have it be. We are only at home if we are with God, and we only get glimpses and foretastes of this in this life until the coming of the Son of Man. So the author encourages his hearers/readers not to be conformed to the desires they formerly had, to “futile ways”.
What are these futile ways? In 1 Peter 4.3 they are described as “living in licentiousness, passions, drunkenness, revels, carousing, and lawless idolatry”. More positively, the author encourages them a bit later in that chapter:
7 The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers. 8Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. 9Be hospitable to one another without complaining. 10Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. 11Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ.
The author also encourages his recipients to be blameless with respect to the Emperor and his delegates, and that wives should be obedient to their husbands. Well, the author was writing some 1900 years ago, and it is probably the case that he was less egalitarian than Paul and less subversive than Paul and the gospel writers.
As a product of the upper middle class, with education at a private school and two great universities, I should feel like I am at home in this world, and in many ways I do. Canada is a good place to live, and I can exercise my faith without restraint. However, I also feel that I do not fit in. While my faith is not persecuted, it is often considered irrelevant or problematic. I am part of a minority that used to be a majority, and many of my co-religionists mourn the days of influence and power. I believe that the faith of Christ does not fit well with much of our society, and is very much a square knob in a round hole. We call into question a consumer society based upon unlimited needs. We challenge indifference to poverty, war, and oppression. We refuse to align ourselves with political partisanship, seeking to transcend such boundaries while still remaining engaged in deep questions. We are willing to pay a high cost for our discipleship, which is foolishness to many in the world. We are serious and disciplined in an era of frivolity and lassitude. We are focused on the other instead of ourselves. And so we are exiles.
This is Good Friday, for today we see the goodness of God shown in Jesus Christ, who holds nothing back from confronting evil, whether Pontius Pilate and the collaborationist chief priests, or the cosmic power of sin and death. While others see only the death of our God, we see the self-sacrifice of Jesus in humble obedience as a victory, borne out in the resurrection. We are exiles, but the Word made Flesh joined us in our exile, and so redeemed it and made it the kingdom of God.