I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see you to it.
(St. Matthew 27. 24)
We in the Christian church are called to silence and contemplation during Holy Week. In silence, we contemplatethe Passion and Crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God. 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 diligent and determined concentration, we will, no doubt, find that it will move us to ponder the nature of our lives in relation to God. Should we persevere in faith with our eyes on Jesus Christ, God’s great unseen eternal design will begin to make sense to our fallen natures. If we persist in following Jesus throughout His Passion, we shall come to the Cross -the place of enduring love and new life.
And yet the task that we set before ourselves today seems so daunting. No sooner have I said that we must be still and silent than we are overwhelmed and swept up in the tumultuous commotion and confusion that surrounds the trial of Jesus Christ. Pontius Pilate, the Prefect or Roman Governor of Judaea, is trying to superimpose order and discipline on chaos, anarchy, and confusion. What he thought was small-town problem of only local significance seems to press down upon him as a very weighty matter indeed. He knows that he must tread gently with the Jewish religious authority. The Temple at Jerusalem is both the center of worship and banking. The Temple served as a place to collect tithes for the religious hierarchy and also to exchange monies into Roman currency to pay taxes to Caesar. So, Pilate must tread softly with the Jews. That Jesus had objected to the commercial uses of the Temple precincts made him dangerous to Rome. The Pax Romana –the Roman Peace, was secured only with the cooperation of the ruling Jewish religious elite. But being also a good Roman, Pilate is moved by gravitas and stabilitas. Roman Law stands transcendently higher than all threats to it. He is more than a little bit irritated that the rag-tag Jewish Temple guards have harassed, rustled, and bound one Jesus of Nazareth in clear defiance of Roman law and the civic peace. The Jewish temple priests and chief elders have roused and excited the plebs, or the mob of unemployed and disgruntled men who had hailed Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem –Hosanna to the Son of David, Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord…., pinning their hopes on Him as the great liberator and freedom fighter who would break the yoke of Roman oppression. Pilate is not amused. He knows what the Jewish hierarchs are up to.
So, in strict conformity with Roman Law, Pilate will question the so-called disturber of the Jewish -and Roman, peace. He questions Jesus who has been brought before him. Art thou the king of the Jews? (St. Matthew xxvii. 11) Jesus answers, Thou sayest, or So you say. The Jews accuse him of many things and Jesus remains silent. Pilate is astounded. Hearest not how many things they witness against thee? (Ibid, 13) Jesus’ silence confounds and unsettles Pilate so that the governor marveled greatly. (Ibid, 13, 14)But Pilate has another reason to tread cautiously. Rome has an agreement with the Jewish authorities. To placate them, it was the custom, yearly on the Feast of the Passover, to pardon and liberate one prisoner. There was a notorious criminal in custody that year, one Barabbas,whose name means, ironically enough,son of the Father. Pilate knew that out of envy and malice they had delivered Jesus to him, and wondered if the chief priests would really want the release of Barabbas since radical insurrectionists of his stripe threatened the Jewish establishment as much as the peace of Caesar’s Empire. Perhaps he could throw the problem back at the Jews for their solving. So he asks the Jews, Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus which is called Christ? (Ibid, 17) Having asked the question, he sits down on the judgment seat. No sooner has he done this, than matters become more complicated by a message that he receives from his wife, Claudia Procula.Do not meddle with this innocent man; I dreamed today that I suffered much on his account. (R. Knox, Ibid, 19) Romano Guardini tells us that, Pilate is skeptical but sensitive –possibly also superstitious. He feels the mystery, fears supernatural power, and would like to free [Jesus]. (The Lord, p. 392)But the chief priests and elders are bent on Jesus’ destruction. So, they have stirred the mob to demand Barabas’ release and Jesus’ death. Pilate needs a crime to convict, and so asks, Why, what evil hath [this Jesus] done? (St. Matthew 27. The crowd offers no crime and thus no evidence.Crucify him, they cry vehemently. Pilate fears the intensity of their malevolence. Then 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. (St. Matthew 27. 24) TheRoman Peace must be maintained. Let Jews take the blame: His blood be on us, an on our children. (St. Matthew 27. 25)
Now, I have said that we must be still and silent this coming week in order to be touched and moved by the Word of God in the heart of Jesus. What should touch and move us most is Jesus’ relative silencethrough His trial, suffering, and death. Pilate’s soldiers and the bitter, vengeful, and envious Jews were determined to silence this Jesus of Nazareth forever. Extreme torture is always useful in such an endeavor. But most men don’t go down without a fight. Jesus’ silence speaks volumes about His mission and work. His silence invites us to ponder the nature of Great Unseen Eternal Design still alive and well at work in His heart. Romano Guardini says It is frightening to witness this hate-torn world suddenly united for one brief hour, against Jesus. And what does he do? Every trial is, in reality, a struggle –but not this one. Jesus refuses to fight. He proves nothing. He denies nothing. He attacks nothing. Instead, he stands by and lets events run their course –more, at the proper moment he says precisely what is necessary for his conviction. His words and attitude have nothing to do with the logic or demands of a defense. The source lies elsewhere. The accused makes no attempt to hinder what is to come; but his silence is neither that of weakness nor of desperation. It is divine reality; full, holy consciousness of the approaching hour; perfect readiness. His silence brings into being what is to be. (Ibid, 395) And with St. Paul, we remember that though he was in the form of God, 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 silently but conscientiously and willingly submits to the Great Unseen Eternal Design. God and His Word through the Spirit must effect a work that the world cannot comprehend yet. Jesus has no need to defend Himself against sinful man and his lies. Jesus must be left alone with His Father in order to embrace the work that must be done so that man can be saved. So, to the end, He does not count his Divine Nature a thing to pressed and forced upon an unwilling people. He intends to prove nothing other than that He has come from the Father to do the Father’s will. His Divine Nature is a thing to be discovered when human souls finally realize that Jesus’ silence reveals the Word of the Father hard at work in the suffering heart of the Savior.
This week, the relatively silent Word of God will be hard at work in the suffering and dying Jesus. Jesus refuses to allow any of what He must endure to be anything other than the Father’s will. He knows that the Father’s will triumphs over any and all obstacles to the operation of His goodness. Jesus knows too that this labor of working God’s will out and into the hearts of men is done best silently. Jesus’ silence will allow sin to make one last great assault on God’s goodness in Jesus’ heart. Jesus’ silence will triumph over it. Jesus will suffer silently because the death that it leads into must be endured and transformed by God’s goodness. Christ knows truly that God’s goodness will conquer all. Christ’s silence says:
You have stripped, bound, whipped, and tortured me. You have nailed my hands and feet to the tree. You continue to tempt, taunt, and provoke me. Still, you think that you can sever me from God? Do you think that I will reject my Father because I must suffer? Do you think that because I hang and suffer on this tree the Father cannot make good out of it? I made this body that I inhabit, and I made yours too. Do you think that something as small as suffering and death will put an end to that Great Unseen Eternal Design of my Father? I tell you, that even in the midst of this my earthly end, God is making all things new. In my suffering and death, I will bring sin to death. In my suffering and death, I will bring righteousness to life. On this day I have accepted your judgment of God’s Word in my flesh and in yours. See now how God’s Word is in my flesh. See now how I begin to make all things new.
Dear friends, this day let us begin to follow the Word of God made fleshinto His suffering and death. In stillness and wonder let us see how this Word of God in Jesus Christ speaks to us in silence. As we look on the Crucified One,R. H. Thomas reminds us that,
It’s not that he can’t speak;
who created languages
but God? Nor that he won’t;
to say that is to imply
malice. It is just that
he doesn’t, or does so at times
when we are not listening, in
ways we have yet to recognize
as speech R. H. Thomas
There is a speech to be heard in God’s Word made flesh, now dying silently on the tree. If we behold and listen to His few words, His relative silence will show us the way into death, a new kind of death, a death that is good and beautiful, and a death that is offered to us as the Way into new life. If we behold and listen, the silence shall burst forth as the sweet song of Christ’s desire and His pure Passion, the song of suffering love that wins our salvation.
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St. Michael and All Angels Sermons