AS ON this Good Friday we gather again, in the mercy of God, for our "watch beneath the Cross, it will perhaps be helpful to follow in our meditations a line of thought suggested by words of our Lord, spoken at the very beginning of His public ministry, and never forgotten by the Jews: "Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up."
It was on the occasion of the first cleansing of the Temple, recorded by St. John immediately after the narrative of the Marriage Feast in Oana, and following this "beginning of miracles" by the interval of only a few days.
"The Jews' Passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem, and found in the Temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting: And when He had made a scourge of small cords, He drove them all out of the Temple, and the sheep and the oxen; and poured out the changers' money, and overthrew the tables; and said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not My Father's house an house of merchandise. And His disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of Thine house hath eaten Me up. Then answered the Jews, and said unto Him, What sign showest Thou unto us, seeing that Thou doest these things? Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this Temple in building, and wilt Thou rear it up in three days? But He spake of the Temple of His Body. When therefore He was risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this unto them; and they believed in the Scripture, and the word which Jesus had said" (St. John ii. 13-23).
The accusation made against our Lord in the judgment hall of Pilate by false witnesses, who remembered, but perverted, His saying, "Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up," connects these words significantly with His Passion. But besides this, we recall the earlier events of this great week; the solemn entry of our Lord into the Temple on Palm Sunday, His revisiting it, and a second time cleansing it on Monday, His spending the whole of Tuesday within its precincts in teaching and in answering questions. Late in the afternoon of that day He left the Temple for the last time, and while the disciples spoke with admiration of the stones of which it was built, foretold its utter ruin. Later still, He surveyed it from the opposite slope of the Mount of Olives, and spoke of His final judgment and of the end of the world.
All these things connect the Temple, and therefore the analogy which our Lord borrows from it, very pointedly with His Cross.
As we dwell upon this analogy, other sayings of our Lord, or words spoken in Scripture concerning His Passion, recur to us with a new force. An example is that saying of the Psalms which on this very occasion the disciples called to mind: "The zeal of Thine house hath eaten Me up." Like others who did not perceive the hidden reference of our Lord, they thought only of His zeal for the Temple of Israel, but how the prophecy grows in the depth of its significance as we apply it to the Temple of His Body: that Temple not made with hands, in which, for our sakes, He sanctified Himself!
It is in this Temple of His Humanity, "through the veil, that is to say, His Flesh" (Heb. x. 20), that our great High Priest by the way of His Passion is to enter the Holy of Holies, consummating the typical sacrifices of the ancient law, and making full atonement for the sins of the whole world.
We shall therefore try to use these most solemn hours in which we are gathered about the Cross of our Redeemer, in reverent and loving contemplation of the Temple of His Humanity. The sacred hands, the undefiled lips, the pure and holy eyes of Jesus seem in a manner to associate themselves respectively with the first three Words uttered on the Cross. Under the Fourth Word, our hearts and minds will be directed to the contemplation of the sufferings endured by our Lord in His sinless soul. These words tell a deep mystery, into which we cannot enter, but as we stand without at the time of the Sacrifice, we may at least learn to sympathize more deeply with the unknown and unimagined sufferings of the Holy One. The Fifth Word may well be taken as putting before us all that the Temple of His Body had to bear in physical pain as the sinless Victim was made perfect through suffering. The Sixth Word, "It is finished," has its bearing upon the Eucharistic Sacrifice which in the spiritual Temple of the Catholic Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, perpetuates the Sacrifice of Calvary, and ever prevails through the merits of our Lord's accomplished work. The Seventh and last Word carries us into the Holy of Holies of our Lord's Spirit, which as the veil of the temple was rent, He commends into His Father's hands.
Thus listening to the dying words of our Redeemer, all the faculties of our soul may be riveted upon the Person of the Divine Sufferer. Surely it is in some such exercise as this that we shall best employ these sacred and most precious moments. Other opportunities will recur throughout the year for merely moral reflections, practical and necessary as these are. But now we are at the death-bed of the Saviour of mankind, and our own best and dearest Friend. As we cherish the last precious moments of some earthly loved one, and watch the fleeting life before it goes forth, our last communings are not in the nature of consecutive and coherent words. It is through the silent pressure of the hand, the eager watching of the lips, the unspoken language of the eyes that we convey and receive the last messages of love. In like manner, but with infinitely greater tenderness and gratitude and love let us now take our place at the Cross of Jesus, and draw near to the Temple of His Body.