Good Friday, II, 2022
Christ the Word of God, the forgiveness of sins made flesh is making new life from His Cross. The love of his Being is bringing life out of death. St. Luke tells us that Jesus is crucified with two malefactors. Saints Mark and Matthew tell us that they were thieves. One of the thieves, hanging to His right side, knowing that he deserves to be punished for his crimes, begs Jesus to remember Him when He comes into His Kingdom. Jesus and the good thief are approaching earthly death. The thief comes to believe that he is in the presence of God. Jesus consecrates his conversion. Today shalt thou be with me in paradise. (St. Luke xxiii. 43)
One thing more must be made for those who still live. Jesus utters His Third Word. Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! (St. John xix. 25,26) We remember the words spoken to the Blessed Virgin by the old prophet Simeon some thirty years prior: Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. (St. Luke ii. 35) She did not understand the meaning of those words then but perhaps is beginning to feel their power now. Like any good mother, she feels the pain of her dying child as one who is pierced through with a sword. And how much more must the torture be for her now, as she sees the Son of her womb, God the Father’s Holy Innocent Word made flesh, the child [in whom would be] set the fall and rising again of many in Israel, (Ibid, 34) dying a wholly undeserved, unmerited, unearned, and unjust death. We can only imagine the pain and confusion that she experienced, the bewilderment and amazement at what was transpiring before her very eyes. To her, this was the true blasphemy, execration, and sacrilege of fallen man against her Son whom she conceived by the Holy Ghost of God the Father.
The time was not yet for Jesus to disclose the full truth and meaning that His death would bring to her and others. But in the time between now and what would come later, He takes the first steps to channel her faith and belief towards the new world that He was always making and now redeeming. The Blessed Virgin, we must remember, was nothing if not a creature of pure faith, obedience, and trust. Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me, according to thy Word. (St. Luke i. 38) The commencement of man’s salvation began with her Yes to God. Her Son was first conceived in her soul by faith and only thereafter in her womb. And we do well to remember that St. Luke reminds us that on two occasions at least, because she did not grasp the nature and meaning of this Son she had brought into the world, she pondered these things in her heart –immediately following his birth, and when, twelve years later, she thought she had lost Him in Jerusalem, where, when she found him, He rebuked her and said, Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business? (St. Luke ii. 49) Later, when He chastised her for pestering him about the depletion of wine at the Wedding of Cana in Galilee, rightly rebuked, she was obedient and trusting, faithful as ever, and said to the servants, whatsoever he saith unto you, do it. (St. John ii. 5) Jesus knows the faith of His Mother. She too knows that her life has been a constant vocation to let Him go. At one point she and His kin were standing outside of the temple waiting for him. One man said, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee. But Jesus answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? (St. Matthew xii. 47, 48) At another time, Jesus having healed a dumb man, a woman cries out, Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked. But Jesus said, yea rather, blessed are they that hear the Word of God and keep it. (St. Luke 27, 28.) To some, Jesus seemed always to be pushing His mother away from Himself, separating Himself from her, and so undervaluing her unique role.
And it here that we find revealed His real intention and desire. Jesus is a human son, the Son of Man, for sure. He is fully human. But Jesus is first and foremost the everlastingly-begotten Son of God. He has already begun to open His dying life to others; one man, the good thief, has become a part of this good and living death. His Sonship is enlarged; it will broaden and enlarge so as to include all who repent and follow Him. His Sonship is not limited by His blood-tie to his earthly mother. His Sonship will expand to include all who choose to become the Sons and Daughters of God through Him. Mary is His human mother, but she too is the mother of much more than one earthly son, as unique as He may be. Nay, she is called the Mother of God. And if she is the Mother of God, she must be prepared to bear and care for many more children than Jesus alone. She must die to earthly motherhood so that she might become a spiritual mother. Woman, behold thy Son, Jesus says to her as she stands trembling in the arms of John the beloved disciple. Jesus looks at John and says, Behold thy mother. (St. John xix. 27) In neither case does He address them by their proper names. Mary is to become the Mother of the New Creation that Jesus is making, beginning here and now from His Cross. She will become the Mother of redeemed and reborn humanity, beginning here and now, through the pangs of spiritual rebirth and new life. Her love for Jesus as a natural son dies with Him on His Cross; her method of birthing will move from the physical and particular, to the spiritual and universal. John is to be adopted as her first new child, the child of the Grace that is making all things new through Jesus’ death. He will be the caregiver and son who will ensure that her spiritual mission continues through his earthly protection. She will be John’s mother. In the nearness of God’s Today, she will become the spiritual mother of a new humanity.
Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord. (Isaiah liv. 1)
Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabacthani: My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me? (St Matt. xxvii. 46)
Mary hears what must have seemed the most difficult words that Jesus- or perhaps anyone, could ever utter. They strike us as wrong, precisely because they seem so dangerously close to despair. And yet they are not. Jesus feels the potential despair of every man who feels abandoned by the Father. These are the words of psychic and spiritual pain, but they are the very opposite of despair. These are the words of hope actually, for Jesus has joined all who will be poor in spirit. Christ does not curse God and die. Rather He turns to the one and only source of new life, God the Father, in a cry of agonizing helplessness and loneliness. This is the summary of the long, dark night of the soul. The soul can turn to nothing for comfort other than God Himself. The Father is distant and silent, but present. Jesus cries My God, My God.
God’s distance and silence are indeed part of the process of salvation. Here is the sense of utter dependence upon God, even from that separation in silence. O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou [wilt].(St. Matthew 26. 39), He had prayed in His agony in the garden. But God’s will must be accomplished. And so Jesus endures what for all other men is seemingly unendurable. Here is the point where the light shineth in the darkness and the darkness overcame it not. (St. John 1. 5) The light flickers, and trembles, and might even be tempted to despair and yet Jesus does not yield. The light flickers and trembles because Christ has taken into His heart the experience of every man, woman and child who has ever felt the loneliness of abandonment. In the heart of Jesus, mankind’s last and final temptation to surrender to the void of nothingness, a lifeless place emptied of light and love, is overcome. Jesus experiences humanity’s predicament to the full. In the final point of encounter with man’s pain, he feels acutely and sees clearly the possibility of the sin against the Holy Ghost. And yet he does not surrender. He is tempest-tossed, is nearly overwhelmed, and yet He cries with the words of the Psalmist:
My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?…I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.…They pierced my hands and my feet. I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me.
Jesus turns to the Father. Romano Guardini sums up what is at work here beautifully. He writes:
God followed man…into the no man’s land which sin had ripped open. God not only glanced down at him and summoned him lovingly to return, he personally entered into that vacuous dark to fetch him, as St. John powerfully expresses it in his opening Gospel. Thus in the midst of human history stood one was both human and God. Pure as God, but bowed with responsibility as man. He drank the dregs of that responsibility- down to the bottom of the chalice. Mere man cannot do this. Man is so much smaller than his sin against God, that he can neither contain it nor cope with it. He can commit it, but he is incapable of fully realizing what he has done. He cannot measure his act; cannot receive it into his life and suffer it through to the end…It confuses him, leaves him desperate but helpless. God alone can ‘handle’ sin. Only he sees through it, weighs it, judges it with a judgment that condemns the sin but loves the sinner. A mere man attempting the same would break.
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St. Michael and All Angels Sermons