"Then Jesus took unto him the twelve, and said unto them,
Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things written by the Prophets concerning
the Son of Man shall be accomplished. For he shall be delivered unto the
Gentiles, and shall be mocked and spitefully entreated and spitted on:
and they shall scourge him, and put him to death; and the third day he
shall rise again. And they understood none of these things, and this saying
was hid from them; neither understood they the things which were spoken."
"Behold, we go up to Jerusalem" is the summons of this day. Behold,
we go up to Jerusalem, to witness those things which come to pass here.
We gaze and fix our minds and hearts upon the passion of the Son of God.
Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, to witness a mystery which astounds and
stupefies, a mystery before which all words seem cheap, and every symbol
seems too shallow. What thoughts, or what emotions can embrace such horrendous
contradictions: the Son of God is spitted on; the Son of God, the Word
of Life, goes down to death. How can we contemplate such things? How can
we even begin to understand? How can we fix our minds and hearts on that?
In the mystery of that moment, all the powers of heaven and earth and
hell are shaken. The sun withholds its light, and the whole creation, which
longs for its redemption, utters its astounded cry, as the earth quakes,
and the rocks are rent. In that moment, all the hopes and expectations
of religion are confounded, and the veil of the Temple is rent in twain
from the top unto the bottom. Many bodies of the saints arise and go about
the city. That is to say, the whole settled order of the universe and of
human life and expectations, all that is reasonable and dependable, is
overturned turned upside down when God, the Son of God, is spitted on,
when the Word of Life goes down to death.
How can we begin to understand this? On one side, we say it is the work
of human wickedness, the pride of sin, which put to death the Son of God:
Who was the guilty, who brought this upon thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesu, hath undone thee.
'Twas, I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee.
I crucified thee.
(from hymn by Rev. Paul Gerhardt)
And that no doubt, is true. And yet, how are we to believe that our
paltry sins should overthrow the order of the universe, and dim the brightness
of that infinite and everlasting glory which is God? Isn't it madness to
suppose that God is in our hands?
Alas, sweet Lord! What were't to thee
If there were no such worms as we?
Heav'n ne'er the less still Heav'n would be
Should mankind dwell
In the deep hell.
What have his woes to do with thee?
Let him go weep
O'er his own wounds;
Seraphims will not sleep,
Nor spheres let fall their faithful rounds.
Still would the youthful spirits sing,
And still thy spacious palace ring;
Still would those beauteous ministers of Light Burn all as bright,
And bow-their flaming heads before thee;
Still thrones and dominions would adore thee,
Still would those ever-wakeful sons of fire
Keep warm thy praise,
Both nights and days,
And teach thy loved name to their noble lyre
Let froward dust then do its kind,
And give itself for sport to the proud wind.
Why should a piece of peevish clay plead shares
In the eternity of thy old cares?
Why shouldest thou bow thy awful breast to see
What mine own madnesses have done with me?
Will the gallant sun
E'er the less glorious run?
Will he hang down his golden head,
Or e'er the sooner seek his western bed,
Because some foolish fly
Grows wanton, and will die?
If I were lost in misery
What was it to thy Heaven and thee?
What was it to thy precious blood
If my foul heart called for a flood?
(R. Crashaw, Charitas Nimia).
The power of human wickedness is no doubt great. Its machinations sink
into the very fabric of our life, and cripple the mind and heart. The power
of human wickedness is great, but not so great that it should touch the
holy peace of God, unless he willed that it should touch him. Jesus says
to Pilate,"Thou could'st have no power against me, unless it were given
thee from above." Human wickedness will raise itself in pride and claim
to be "as God," but that is devilish delusion. God is not touched unless
he will it so to be.
We bear in mind today the weight of human wickedness, that reckless
pride which rises up against the holiness of God and the order of his universe.
But that is not what is first and most important in the mystery of the
love of God, who freely wills our woes to touch his heart, who freely gives
himself against our sins, in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. That is the
mystery of this day, and that is why we call this Friday "Good." We celebrate
the mystery of the love of God: that "God so loved the world, that he gave
his only Begotten Son." (John 3.16) That is love unthinkable, utterly unmerited,
beyond all possible expectation.
For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the
ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure
for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love
towards us, in that, while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. (Romans
A beautiful seventeenth century poem puts the message this way:
My song is love unknown
My Saviour's love to me
Love to the loveless shown
That they might lovely be.
O who am I
That for my sake
My Lord should take
Frail flesh, and die?
(from hymn by Dean Samuel Crossman)
Our task today is nothing other than the contemplation of that mystery
of love. It is to fix our minds and hearts upon the passion and the dying
of the Son of God. That is, in a way, the whole task of our discipleship.
Christians often ask for detailed recipes for Christian life, solutions
to all sorts of problems, great and small, and ways for dealing with our
sins. All that is understandable. But in the end, there is only one answer
to all of this: we must gaze upon the charity of God in Christ. The charity
of God must be our food and drink. That is now our duty: to look upon the
crucified, and that must become also our delight. We must be transformed
by that renewal of our mind, so charity becomes the very substance of our
This is why the heart of Christian life is the sacrament of Calvary,
the sacrament of body broken, and blood out-poured. Christ's sacrifice
abides with us in the sacrament, so that we may look upon the mystery of
love and eat and drink the charity of God. Our misery and our shame is
that we would contemplate all else but that. Surely we must see that without
charity, all else besides is nothing worth, "sounding brass and tinkling
cymbal, childish babble." (1 Corinthians 13.1) We must eat and drink the
charity of God so that God's own charity, which hears, believes, hopes
and endures, may be the substance of our life and the renewal of our minds.