“I crucified thee”
“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.” (Luke 18.31-34)
“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, “You could have no power over me, unless it were given you 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 commends his love towards us, in that, while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. (Romans 5.6-8).
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 souls.
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.