THE dawn of a fair spring day has flooded all the eastern land with brilliant sunshine, the calm blue sky is without a cloud throughout its serene expanse, and every hill and valley far and near smiles in the golden light; the soft air echoes with the song of birds and the voices of laughing children, while the crowds that are passing to and fro on their business or their pleasure, seem to have caught on their happy faces all the radiance of the morning. Yes! there is brightness everywhere, save in one spot; over the city of the Great King--Jerusalem--the joy of the whole earth, there lies a strange portentous shadow, unseen to the multitudes who throng its streets or to those who gaze on the Temple buildings from afar, but visible to One Who from all eternity has foreknown the meaning of that mysterious gloom and all that it portends.
It is the shadow of impending Doom; the doom not of death alone, but of every concentrated agony which can be endured by a Victim in Whose awful Being are united the human nature and the Godhead. JESUS has drawn nigh unto Jerusalem. He stands upon the mount of Olives. He looks towards the guilty city, of which it shall be said, in that last Day when the heavens and the earth must flee away before the Face of the Almighty Judge, that there the LORD was crucified. He takes His way along the path that leads to it, in meek and lowly guise; and while all the world around Him is glad with joy and sunshine, He passes in beneath the shadow that enshrouds it like a funeral pall--Jesus entered into Jerusalem.
As it was in the springtide of that momentous year which is linked to all cycles of time, before and since, by the power of an Undying Love, so is it in these latter days, when for us tenanting the earth in our generation, once more the winter has passed and gone, and the singing of birds is heard among the opening flowers; the gladness and beauty of early spring is around us again and all are rejoicing in the reviving nature, the tread of eager feet tells of the ceaseless search for pleasure or excitement, while mirthful voices echo through the air and the smile of the sunshine is reflected on hopeful faces; only amid the universal brightness there is now even as there was then, one spot shrouded in mournful darkness, for the eyes that will to behold it. Over the Jerusalem of Passiontide the shadow lies of His remembered Doom, and they who would in true commemoration watch with Him through all His hours of Agony, must turn from the smiling world and its joys, to enter with Him into the precincts of death and pain beneath that veil of ominous gloom.
Let us go that in spirit we may die with Him. JESUS enters into Jerusalem and all the city is moved, saying, "Who is this?" At the entrance of Holy Week we answer, "He is our life,"--even as, on the threshold of the world beyond the grave, we hope to say, "He is our Life Eternal."
Within the limit of these seven days we may see concentrated, the whole mystery of that Redemption of the human race, which stretches from everlasting to everlasting in the changeless purpose of the Infinite GOD. In the progress of JESUS from the triumphant palm-strewn way, to the Sepulchre sealed in darkness and silence beneath the great stone, there is a close analogy with every stage of mortal existence, and we shall find that the manner of His being from hour to hour, touches all forms of possible discipline by which we may be moulded into His Likeness, and drawn into union with the Living GOD.
For us, the Incarnation, the Passion, and the Sacrifice all proclaim the same Truth, that the intense desire of happiness, the inappeasable craving for an unknown good, which is coexistent with our very consciousness, can have its satisfaction only in Him, Who is the manifest Love of GOD, since it is but the inevitable search for the one object of our being, the demand, uncomprehended by ourselves, of our GOD-created spirits for that LORD of Life Who has made us for Himself.
Once it was said unto JESUS, "All men seek Thee," and in these words was revealed the secret which lies at the heart of all humanity. It is JESUS Whom every living soul is seeking; it is the dumb unconscious supplication of their very nature, for Him Who is the Bliss, the Life, the Eternity, that alone can fill their deathless spirits, which speaks in all the restlessness, the futile struggling in disappointment and despair, that load this world with a thousand forms of anguish.
If we enter with Him now beneath the shadow of the Holy Week, we shall learn in each one of its ever darkening hours, not only, how truly it is for JESUS that unknowingly we seek from the first moment of earthly existence to the last, but after what manner also, the probation of every stage of mortal life is fashioned in union with that Sacrifice of Suffering, whereby alone He has placed within our reach the beatitude of His Eternal Love.
The very first accents of the Divine Voice, which we hear as we pass with Him into the shrouded city of the Passion, proclaim this the central Truth of our whole being.
"If thou hadst known, even thou, in this thy day, the things that belong unto thy peace,"--and--Jesus wept!--Not only for Jerusalem, nor for all the myriads living on the earth that day, but for every individual soul who has ever entered on probation here, and to whom those words have been spoken in vain, so that they have reached the bourne of troubled tortured life without having realized that He, and He alone, is our Peace. He wept in that hour for the suffering He knew that each one through all succeeding ages should endure, whoever sought for happiness or rest apart from Him. Shall not the thought of those tears fall like heavenly dew upon the aching hearts, that vainly have beat so high for the delusive hopes of earth, telling us that although we have turned aside deceived, from Him our only good, yet can His Divine compassion reach us still, and He Who wept for us is ready even now to wipe away all our tears?
If thou hadst known--even thou--thy Peace.
Let us enter on the seven awful days, bearing those words within our hearts as the solution of the problems of life for us and for all mankind. To each separate human being there comes at some period of their lives, the time of their visitation which is known only to their own souls and to their GOD, but the recurrence of this Holy Week is also in its measure a time of visitation, of which the responsibility will surely rest upon us all for weal or for woe.
It is the dawn of the first Palm Sunday, and we see in it the type of the morning of existence. Whether those springtide years are with us still, or looking back we see them from the toilsome paths of later life, the lesson taught us is the same. "Behold, thy King cometh," and they say unto Him, "Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord."
Their adoration for the moment is sincere, yet these are they who later in the march of time shall cry out, "Crucify Him, crucify Him, we have no king but Cæsar!" They deceived themselves, they believed that they loved Him, that they desired to have Him for their only but when to own Him meant peril and pain, they cast Him out to die, and gave to the earthly monarch their allegiance and their truth.
Has it not been even so with ourselves? We were called by the name of CHRIST in our early youth, and believed that we were surely His in loyalty and faith. We adored Him as our King, and offered Him the fragile flowers we plucked upon the sunlit paths wherein we were content to follow Him, but when the royal march with waving palms and songs exultant led into the Dolorous Way, when the shadow closed around Him, when the sunshine of joy and the flowers of life were all left far behind Him, when He entered into the temple of our spirits and demanded that He should reign there as our only King and GOD,--did we not shrink from the terrible sentence uttered at that very temple door, "He that loveth his life shall lose it, and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal."
Did we not love the fair expanse of years which seemed to stretch out before us, bright with the golden promise of imagined joys, the royal gifts which the Cæsar of this world could bestow, to whom our hearts went out in secret homage, while outwardly we seemed to worship CHRIST the LORD? Not only, perhaps, in youth, but even to this day may it not have been so with us? If in this our hearts condemn us, then may we feel indeed that Holy Week has brought to us the time of our visitation, for the special warning of Palm Sunday bids us look to it, lest unknowingly we have deceived ourselves with a fair show of outward homage to the Crucified, while in our secret heart we adored the world-power who could gild for us the fleeting days of earthly life. Gnwqi seauton, know thyself, judge thyself this day, that the Sacred Victim Who would draw thee after Him now into the shadow of His Passion, judge thee not hereafter as a self-deceiver, in the piercing light of the Great White Throne.
This is the lesson of the first of the seven holy days, but each one is marked by a special consolation for those who are true to their Redeemer, no less than by a definite warning to all who may be false to Him in heart,--and now from the rebuke we turn to the blessing.
How far soever we have sought to satisfy with the fair false joys of earth that longing for happiness which is in truth but the thirst of our souls for the living GOD, in such measure we have most surely suffered as the sole result of our vain endeavours, and shall suffer haply to the end; but for all the pain and bitter disappointment we thus have gathered to ourselves, there is in this day of Palms a gift of tender healing, since He in these first hours of Holy Week takes on Himself an anguish similar in kind, differing only in its sinlessness, so that the comfort wherewith He and He alone can comfort us is given in perfect sympathy. Does not all seem to promise joy and brightness for Him that day when the eager voices cry, "Hosanna," and hail Him as their Beloved, their King for Whom no flowers can be too fair, no honour done too great? and yet He knew even then how their love would turn to hatred, their welcome to rejection; how they would nail unto the cruel Cross the Feet for which they made the way soft with their very garments, and flood His last hours with bitterness Whom they had called blessed in His coming. Therefore does He enter this day with full comprehension into the secret bitterness that fills our hearts when all that seemed most fair, most true, most dear, turns in our grasp to ashes, and the sympathy of JESUS, unlike the barren compassions of this world, has power to replace the pain which draws it forth with an undying joy; for He knows that we suffer only because we sought our happiness apart from our one essential Bliss, and even with tears He offers Himself to fill our souls with rapture. "If thou hadst known, even thou, thy Peace."
Let us not pass, then, from the day of Palms without having taken into our lives the warning to know ourselves, to prove whether we are His in sincerity and truth and possess Him in unspeakable blessedness as our only and eternal Peace.
And now the first day of the Holy Week is over, "Jesus departed and hid Himself."
There can be no certainty where the LORD spent that first night of His Passion, for while some old writers have supposed that He went to Bethany, there are others, nearer to that awful time, who believed that He resorted to no house of friends, but that each night of the five which preceded the final sacrifice, was passed by Him within that Garden of Gethsemane where He was at the last to receive from His FATHER'S Hands the cup of agony. [It is evident that Judas knew where to find his Master when he came to deliver Him up to His enemies, and this was believed in earlier times to give a strong proof that all the nights of Holy Week were spent by the LORD on the Mount of Olives.]