There have been many a Good Friday in the course of my life. I have heard the Passion narrative. I led the Passion narrative during Good Friday liturgies. Over the many years of Bible study I have covered the Passion narrative more than a few times. And now thru the gift of my friends Jerry and Maureen, I experienced Good Friday in a way not to ever be forgotten.
In the summer of 2018 I was blessed with the gift of a Holy Land tour. In some small way, I retraced the footsteps of Our Savior over the last days of his earthly life: his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the upper room where the Passover was celebrated and the Eucharist instituted, Gethsemane where he prayed and was betrayed, the house of Caiaphas the high priest where he was tried, the courtyard of Pilate where he was condemned and scourged, the way to Calvary, the place he died on the cross, and the tomb from which he was raised from the dead on Easter morning. It is a narrative that is familiar to all the faithful.
One of the holy sites we visited in Jerusalem was the Church of Saint Peter in Gallicantu, a Roman Catholic church located on the eastern slope of Mount Zion, just outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. The church takes its name from the Latin word “Gallicantu,” meaning cock’s-crow. The current church was built/restored in 1931.
This spot is believed to be the location of the High Priest Caiaphas’ palace. According to the fourth century Pilgrim of Bordeaux in his Itinerarium Burdigalense, “…going up from the Pool of Siloe to Mount Zion one would come across the House of the Priest Caiaphas” the place where Peter denied Jesus three times (Mark 14:30).
Archeological research revealed a first century structure, just up from the Pool of Siloe, which was of proportions and scope to likely be Caiaphas’ palace. It was the location where local Christian memory venerated the events of the Passion. Research has also shown that the same location had a facility to hold prisoners, something consistent with other known practices of the day.
Too often we read the narrative of Scripture without imagination. We don’t stop to think of the story between the scenes of the familiar narrative. The Gospels tell us the Jesus was tried by the High Priest Caiaphas sometime near midnight. “Then they brought Jesus from Caiaphas to the praetorium. It was morning.” (John 18:28) What about the hours between? To be clear, Scripture is silent on the matter, but now the question lingers. Where was Jesus during the long hours of the night, abandoned by his disciples, arrested, and waiting for Good Friday to unfold. Jesus had already prayed “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.”(Matthew 26:39). And now the Father’s will was being played out.
Local Christian tradition has long held that Jesus was kept in the lockup facility adjoining Caiaphas’ palace. That was a sanitized description. Archeological research revealed it to be a pit, very much underground, with no natural light. There are no bars or gates to lock one in. There is a hole at the top of the cavern-like cell. One has to be lowered into the pit, into the darkness. The picture shown is looking up from the bottom of the pit. The larger portals were cut in modern times to allow viewing from a gallery for those unable to descend into the pit by way of newly added stone stairs. Without the lights, it is hard to imagine the blackness of that pit.
It is feasible that Jesus spent hours in the darkness, alone, knowing the coming wrath of the Passion, cut off from friends who now deny him, wondering what is all this that the Father asks of him. Alone.
Part of the tour of Gallicantu includes entry into the pit. At the bottom of this pit, one of the pilgrims is asked to read Psalm 88. There is a stillness that settles into the moment. And the pilgrim reads: “You plunge me into the bottom of the pit, into the darkness of the abyss. Your wrath lies heavy upon me; all your waves crash over me.” And the darkness of that long night leading into Good Friday falls upon you with a weight of sorrow and the first inkling of the words Jesus spoke at the Last Supper. “Do you realize what I have done for you?” (John 13:12)
That was perhaps the most powerful moment of the pilgrimage.
While in Tampa I routinely meet with local Christian pastors to share faith, stories of our parishes and congregations. One Monday morning, we were chatting and our conversation turned to pilgrimages in the Holy Land. Pastor Justin from Hyde Park Methodist shared that Gallicantu was also his most powerful and memorable moment of his tour.
It strikes me that this moment, while unwritten in Scripture, is a moment to sit with in the quiet of Good Friday; in the quiet of these days of the pandemic. May we all realize what Christ has done for us. May we respond in prayer and action that this Friday becomes good in our lives.
May the Lord give you peace.