GOOD indeed! though on this supreme day there hangs the shadow of the great darkness which shrouded from all human eyes the death of the Creator; good with the eternal blessing of a world's salvation. What would have been the destiny of our unhappy race if this day had never dawned to make our fallen earth the altar of an all-sufficient Sacrifice? This incomplete, unsatisfactory life, with its delusive joys and bitter pains, must then have been our only hope, and death but an abyss of unfathomable gloom, ready to engulf us and those we love in the depths of some unknown despair. Good, then, indeed the day of suffering supreme, from whence sprang everlasting joy, the day when death became a Sacrament of Life Eternal.
To us who dare still in the Shadow of the Passion to follow CHRIST as He is taken from prison and from judgment, there seems no interval between this day and that which saw the dust of sad Gethsemane wet with the anguish-dew which sin in its utmost penalty wrung from the only One Who never yielded to its power, for each hour of that dreadful night is marked with its own special pain, and could we be content to rest in oblivion of it all, when for us it was endured? even if slumber overtake us through the weakness of the flesh, it is a night when we may say with truth, "I sleep, but my heart waketh," for it cannot be that any one of its mournful watches should find us forgetting Him, Who doubtless in these commemorative hours, looks on us so often faithless, as once He looked on Peter and melted his very soul in anguish of repentance.
Slowly at length that memorable dawn appears, but how can we bear to contemplate the cruel hour that follows when "by His stripes we are healed," when we "beheld Him, stricken, smitten of God and afflicted, wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities, and the chastisement of our peace is upon Him?"
Dearly purchased peace! last legacy of our one Friend. To that peace may we cling though all the world should seek to rend it from us. May that peace be ours when the fair scenes of earth shall flash away for ever from our dying eyes, and through the far reaches of the deathless realms, may we pass on to Him Who is Himself our very and eternal Peace.
Not yet this day, however, must we lift up our heads in that dear hope, though our Redemption is drawing nigh, for still in the intense commemoration of the Holy Week the LORD is being led as a Lamb to the slaughter that He might pour out His soul unto death as an offering for sin, and so make intercession for the transgressors.
We may indeed dwell in thought with adoring gratitude on the many forms of suffering which bowed that Kingly Head beneath the crown of thorns, while He yielded Himself through the long bitter hours to the malice of the torturers, but we may not analyze the terrible details. Too often has the Sacrifice, whose unfathomable depths no human soul can comprehend, been profaned by well-meant efforts to bring it within the limits of poor earthly language, but the reverence of utter silence alone befits us when treading now in His wearied, fainting steps in the last stage of His remembered Passion, we pass onward with Him whither He goes bearing His Cross.
"Weep not for Me, weep for yourselves."
To us and to all the human race till time shall be no longer was that injunction given, for JESUS knew that the guilt of those who inflicted on Him the utmost pangs of physical suffering, was light indeed to that incurred by all who through their own unholiness should crucify Him to themselves afresh, and put Him to an open shame. His murderers did it ignorantly in unbelief, but how often in the full blaze of the Gospel light, and especially in these latter days, men have denied the LORD that bought them, while even those who call themselves by His name reject Him secretly for some idol that enslaves their fancy, saying, "Not this Man, but Barabbas."
Well for us if this day we can so weep for ourselves in our regretted past, that in future we may never have cause to weep for Him, crucified anew by our own cruel hands.
"I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto Me."
The hour has come marked out in its indestructible significance from the eternity wherein it was foredoomed, and in which it shall for ever be remembered; and we are drawn, as He said, to that uplifted Sacrifice, the pledge and embodiment of love undying, never more surely to abandon Him Who in that tremendous hour offered Himself up through the eternal Spirit without spot to GOD. The blackness of night has fallen upon Him and us, who waiting on Him in spiritual realization, have reached this central hour in all the history of the universe. Even nature veils her face in her high noontide from the sight of GOD by man deserted, and a Man by GOD forsaken in His last extremity.
"My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?"
That terrible cry, laden with the inconceivable misery, which must have been ours through ceaseless cycles of existence if the Incarnate SON had never lived on earth and died to bring us back to the Bosom of the FATHER, teaches us in so far as even thus we can comprehend it, what would have been the eternal desolation of our deathless souls in final exile from their GOD.
So long as the ages of this world's probation still endure, the echo of that mysterious cry will ascend to the throne of Immaculate Justice, till the last redeemed spirit has been won from the desert where GOD is not, to behold Him in His glory, and to enter into the joy of his LORD.
The reverent darkness still broods over the shuddering earth, and we in spirit cast ourselves beneath the pierced Feet to fix our whole heart, and mind, and strength on Him Who hangs there bearing our sins in His own body on the tree. Yet not only in heart-wrung gratitude and love must we lie there, while through the portentous gloom His dying Voice is heard to breathe the ineffable words which tell how He prays for His executioners, how He thirsts for our salvation, how He sanctifies all pure human affections by His care for His holy mother. We too have a sacrifice to offer, a crucifixion to accomplish. Those three hours of His last sufferings, "Who took away the hand-writing that was against us, and nailed it to His Cross," must be the concentration of that daily dying unto sin to which we were bound when we put on CHRIST in the waters of baptism. We have been face to face with all that is evil in ourselves through the weeks of Lenten preparation for this hour, and now upon the Cross of our Redeemer we are called to crucify utterly and for ever the whole body of sin in whatsoever form it separates us from the sinless LORD; all cherished idols, all earthly hopes and dreams that hold us back from GOD, our very being, in truth, must be there transfixed in resolute self-surrender, till every thought, and word, and feeling is brought into captivity to the obedience of CHRIST.
The complete and final crucifixion of our will nailed to the will of GOD with the pierced Hands and Feet of JESUS, is the special claim made upon the soul by this the last Passion day, and it is the most terrible of all the warnings of the Holy Week. There can be no painless crucifixion. It may be that our very hearts must break in yielding up that which has been too absorbing or too dear. Yet even then when we are stretched as it were with CHRIST upon the rack of pain there is for us a consolation of most heavenly sweetness, if with all our longing souls we too can say, "Lord, remember me when Thou comest to Thy kingdom," for then may we, even we, hope to be with Him one day in Paradise.
"Consummatum est,"--it is finished! finished the suffering and grief of JESUS, finished the sacrifice to omnipotent Justice, finished the world's salvation.
The portentous darkness is slowly lifted from the earth, and the pallid twilight shows the Divine One silent and still in death. JESUS is taken down from that now powerless Cross of pain and laid within His quiet grave, and already the peace which He bequeathed to us a His dying gift falls on our fainting souls, a peace pure and passionless, such as those alone can know whose natural self, slain by their own deliberate purpose, lies dead and buried in the Redeemer's tomb.