When Pilate was set down upon the judgment-seat, his wife sent
Unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man:
For I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of
(St. Matthew 27. 19)
Holy Week has been set aside from the time of the early Church to ponder our Lord’s suffering in silence. If we approach this time with a determined silence and stillness, we will, no doubt, find that it will interrupt and confound the usual course of human reason and its expectations, as it tears and wrenches the human heart from the fulfillment of its usual expectations. Then, if we sustain the stillness, and with a quiet mind ponder the unfolding drama of Holy Week, the blanket of Divine Otherness might begin to make sense of what seems to be wholly wrong, unjust, and even unthinkable.
Following Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem He had told his Apostles: All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad. (St. Matthew 26.31) This Word that was made flesh would be rejected on a number of different levels. Men always find excuses for refusing to allow the Word to be made flesh in human life. In the interests of political expedience, Pilate will convince himself, perhaps, that he has rid the world of a temporary religious nuisance. The Jews’ self-righteous indignation will be justified…or so they think. Jesus’ Disciples will abandon Him out of confused fear and cowardice. Peter will deny Him and repent, and Judas Iscariot will betray Him and hang himself.
In the lections for today, we already begin to see and hear the truth that will emerge through the trial, arrest, and condemnation of Jesus Christ. Pontius Pilate, Governor of Judaea, is confronted with that earthly chaos and confusion that the Pax Romana must never abide, especially on what should be just another peaceful Friday afternoon in an insignificant outpost of the Roman Empire. He seems a reasonable and just enough man, who is neither drawn to nor impressed by the strange religion of the Jewish Aristocracy, which has interrupted his afternoon rest. He is commissioned with enforcing the Pax Romana –the peace of Octavian Augustus, that has brought unimaginable law and order in the now civilized the world. So he will do his best to treat the problem of this Jesus of Nazareth expeditiously with a kind of Stoical calm that the Romans had mastered with fine precision. In the interest of Roman Law, he will rebuke the Jews for their envy, commanding them to judge Christ themselves, or send him to Herod….but to no avail. (St. Matthew xxvii. 14) Then another kind of stillness, silence, and peace will emerge from this strange man, Jesus Christ, whom he must interrogate. Pilate marvel[s] greatly. (Ibid, 14) His wife has the spiritual sense to warn him to have nothing do with that just man (St. Matthew xxvii. 19), not realizing that she will be the prophetess of a new world order. And, in a sense he will try to do just that. But the crowd will demand that Barabbas be released and Jesus be crucified. Pilate’s conscience is nevertheless stirred, for he finds no evil or crime in the defendant. Why, what evil hath he done? (Ibid, 23) Let Him be crucified, the crowd demands. In response to the passionate envy that threatens further chaos and anarchy, we shall read that, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see you to it. (Ibid, 24) The Jews will confess: His blood be on us, and on our children. (Ibid, 25) And they too will prophesy a judgment of themselves that has never since been eradicated.
Many people, including Christians down through the ages, have never had enough time for Jesus of Nazareth, the Word of God’s love in the flesh. As T. S. Eliot reminds us, Christ speaks to them and us:
O my people, what have I done unto thee.
Where shall the word be found, where will the word
Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence
Not on the sea or on the islands, not
On the mainland, in the desert or the rain land,
For those who walk in darkness
Both in the daytime and in the night time
The right time and the right place are not here
No place of grace for those who avoid the face
No time to rejoice for those who walk among noise and deny the voice
(Ash Wednesday: Eliot, v.)
But for those who can become contemplatively still and quiet by God’s Grace, the sound and sight of God’s Word of Love will emerge through the suffering and death of Christ, His own Son. From the still and silent center –the heart of the Son of God, who will be suffering and dying not only to the world, the flesh, and the devil enfleshed in others, but also to Himself, the Word will be seen and heard. It will be perceived and received, slowly, even hesitatingly, by those who have chosen to believe and to follow. Even now, as the world and its words assault and kill the Word of God in human flesh, the Word of God endures, to be spoken from the center and through the stillness of His unchanged and unmoved heart. This is the heart whose mind made all things and now intends to redeem them. For this Word made flesh –this Jesus Christ– always sees and hears the Father, and then reveals, communicates, and articulates the Father’s will to the world. He will not cease to do so, and especially through His suffering and death when He will be most challenged not to love the Father’s will and bring it to life in the world. He came from God and He will return to God. But not before He willingly offers Himself to God and man by laying down all claims and rights to Himself.
This morning, with St. Paul, we remember that though He was in the form of God, He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. (Phil. 2. 6-8) Jesus Christ empties Himself of His humanity, in order that pure powerlessness might be placed back in the hands of God, the maker and molder of all new human life. He will not desperately grab for, grasp, or clutch on to His Divinity in the hour of His human impotence. Rather He prefers to obey, fear, and follow God with all the humanity that remains in Him. He will become the Man who once again is the servant of God because God’s will and Word alone suffice to secure Man’s unbreakable union with Him. He will be one with the Word of the Father that He sees and hears. This is the Word that has spoken and continues to speak to Him, and through Him to us. And the Word that speaks is the eternal Desire of God for His people. This is the Word of Love that conquers hate, the Word of Good that conquers evil, and the Word of Truth that conquers ignorance.
This week, I pray, that each of us shall make time to travel with Jesus up to His Cross. We can travel with the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. John looking and listening, to the Word made flesh, though we might be very confused and bewildered. This Word of God in Christ will be mostly silent. Pilate marveled, and so will we. In this Word who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously (1 Peter 2. 22, 23), we will begin to see the Word of God’s Love in the flesh. This is a Love that first touches and moves the still and silent hearts of those who remain faithful to it. This is the Love that was first seen and heard in miracles and parables, and now from the Cross persists in revealing itself to others in succinct statements of forgiveness and hope as He brings our old man, Adam, to death in Himself on the Cross. Ultimately and perfectly, this will be the Love that dies in order that all men might live. Christ takes on the burden of our sin and death, which we cannot bear. He bears it gladly and courageously, and even in the midst of unimaginable pain -not just the pain of the body, but the pain of the soul and the spirit also which nevertheless are true to God as the forgiveness of our sins and the seedbed of new and Resurrected Life.
On this Palm Sunday we sing Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord. And yet it seems that as soon as the jubilant song of praise and celebration fades, new malevolent cries for Christ’s execution grow and swell. Crucify Him. Crucify Him. Let him be crucified. Where will we be this week? Will we follow the Word of God’s Love in the heart of Jesus into suffering and death? Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53. 4,5)
This week, let us listen to the silent Word of God’s Love alive in the heart of the dying Saviour. Let us listen as the Word of Love makes innocent suffering and death the occasion for His persistent pursuit of our salvation. Let us listen to the Word of Love that calls us into death. Let us be determined to die in the embrace of Love which offers Himself to God and to us in that simultaneous knot of fire that purges away all cruelty, malice, malevolence, ill will, envy, and pride. Let us be determined to leave our old selves and the familiar haunts behind that the new Man in all of us may be made alive. And let us remember, in stillness and silence, as contemplating the suffering and dying Beloved the words of Archbishop Trench:
Twelve legions girded with angelic sword
Were at his beck, the scorned and buffeted:
He healed another's scratch; his own side bled,
Side, feet, and hands, with cruel piercings gored.
Oh wonderful the wonders left undone!
And scarce less wonderful than those he wrought;
Oh self-restraint, passing human thought,
To have all power, and be as having none;
Oh self-denying love, which felt alone
For needs of others, never for its own.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons: