Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.
(Luke 1. 1 - 4)
This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written. (John 21. 24 - 25)
Everyone loves a good story. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin: “Once upon a time…” Some stories are fictional but others recount historical events or a biography of someone’s life. The four Gospels fall into the latter category.
Starting out as an oral tradition handed down from generation to generation, storytelling predates writing. The archaeologists suggest that ancient rock art was an early type of storytelling, in which the images carved or painted on rocks reminded both storyteller and audience of the main thread of the storyline. People have used caves, rocks, carved tree trunks and other media to record their stories. With the advent of writing, stories were gradually recorded and transcribed, and could then be shared more widely. Today, the Bible is by far the world’s No. 1 bestseller.
In the Christian calendar, we find ourselves rapidly approaching Passiontide, caught up once again in the greatest story of all time. At the centre of the metanarrative of God’s dealing with his people, we find the accounts of Jesus and his journey to the cross as recorded by the four Gospel writers. Luke and John remind us that this is a true story: John was there, one of Jesus’ closest friends, and Luke gained his information from eye-witnesses through careful and thorough investigation.
Crucial elements of a story include the plot, the characters and the manner in which the story is actually told. The Passion of the Christ has them all. We have the baddies: the Pharisees and Sadducees, the high priest Caiaphas, the ruler of the region Herod Antipas, and we have the Romans, the governor Pilate and his soldiers. We have the mixed bag of disciples: Judas, who will betray Jesus, Peter, who will deny Jesus, other followers who will desert Jesus, and some women including Jesus’ mother Mary who will watch the drama unfold from the side lines to the bitter end. At the heart of this gripping story is Jesus himself, the enigmatic figure who gets an unfair trial and death sentence without defending himself in any way, finally suffering a barbaric Roman execution for crimes he did not commit.
It has been customary in the Christian church since the fourth century to read the whole of the Passion Narrative in the run up to Easter. Why not find a favourite chair, get yourself comfy with a cuppa and lose yourself afresh in this amazing story, which can be found in all four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. They are all good reads.
Lord, may the story of your passion come alive in new ways, revealing hidden truths to ground our faith in certainty. Amen.