Friday after the Fourth Sunday in Lent
Then Pilate said unto them, Why, what evil hath he done? And they cried out the more exceedingly, Crucify him. And so Pilate, willing to content the people, released Barabbas unto them, and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged him, to be crucified. Mark 15:14-15
In a previous meditation on our Lord’s institution of the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, I recalled George Herbert’s poem “The Agony,” a mediation at once upon our Savior’s crucifixion and of the rite that recalls the same:
Philosophers have measured mountains,
Fathom’d the depths of seas, of states, and kings,
Walk’d with a staff to heaven, and traced fountains
But there are two vast, spacious things,
The which to measure it doth more behove:
Yet few there are that sound them; Sin and Love.
Who would know Sin, let him repair
Unto Mount Olivet; there shall he see
A man, so wrung with pains, that all his hair,
His skin, his garments, bloody be.
Sin is that Press and Vice, which forceth pain
To hunt his cruel food through every vein.
Who knows not Love, let him assay,
And taste that juice, which on the cross a pike
Did set again abroach; then let him say
If ever he did taste the like.
Love is that liquor sweet and most divine,
Which my God feels as blood; but I, as wine
Throughout these forty days, the Holy Spirit mends our confused minds in manifold means of grace: Meditation on Scripture, prayer, self-denial and deeds of mercy are chief among them. Through them we see afresh the truth of our own sinful predilections, the Father’s infinite mercy, and the Son’s perfect obedience. And we learn, as it were, ‘our place.’ We learn that we are creatures, the product of God’s love. And we learn anew that His commandments, like his creation are good, that they constitute our good and form the basis of the miraculous life in us, chiefly witnessed in our reception of Christ’s Body and Blood in the Sacrament of the New Covenant. It is a profound truth of Lent traditionally observed that the farther we travel its pilgrim way, the clearer the truth of our sin and God’s love become. The increasing intensity of Passiontide, Holy Week, the three days of the Triduum Sacrum, and finally Good Friday itself, are like curtains being drawn in a pageant of revelation, one discomfiting truth preparing us for the next. The institution of the Sacrament of Holy Communion on Maundy Thursday, the night of love’s betrayal, is the constant, sacred reminder that Christ, who is at once all God and all human, has made the instrument of shameful death to be the throne of His glory. On the Cross we see His blood shed and His Body broken, we see our sin in all its terrible consequence: We would not simply be as gods, we would kill the very God who made us. And yet, as the sacrament reminds us, what seems bread and wine to us is at once His Blood outpoured and His Body broken: it is His love for us accomplished not simply despite our sin, but through our sin. The distance between our sin and God’s love would seem infinite (‘spacious’ as Herbert would put it), and yet the two are one in a mystery at once beyond our telling and perfectly believable.
It is believable because it is God alone that make everything out of nothing, who gave us this something made out of nothing. And despite our vain attempts to bring the ‘less than something’ of sin and lies into God’s good order, He has taken that “less than something” on the Cross and given to us more than even we had at that beginning. For we have more than the goodness of Eden wherein we were first placed, we have the greater goodness, the “more than something” of an eternal relationship with God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit in eternity. That is the miracle we recall in these words of institution: That we sinners have been invited to drink this wine with our Savior in the Kingdom of God.
The Rev. Edward Rix
All Saints, Wynnewood