DEEPER than at any time, except on the awful hours of sacrifice, the Shadow of the Holy Week falls on the fourth morning, for it is the day of the betrayal, of darkest treachery.
Weak, erring, sinful as we are, we yet are striving to follow the LORD in the mournful path of His Passion. We have loved Him, we do love Him feebly, imperfectly, no doubt, yet still in such measure that it seems to us impossible we can need any warning against the hideous crime which makes this day more accursed than any other that has ever been branded by the enmity of man to GOD. Yet He Who said of His very torturers, when with loud sounding strokes they drove the cruel nails into His Hands and Feet, "they know not what they do," could well foresee far reaching to the end of time the manifold unfaithfulness whereby He yet should be daily, hourly betrayed in hidden acts by those who believe themselves to be indeed His own.
Most sorrowful of all the Passion days surely was this to Him, bitterer, sadder even than the terrible death day, for into the consummation of the Cross there entered the blessed foreknowledge of the salvation which it purchased for all that would receive it of the erring human race, but there is not so much as a thought of comfort to relieve the blackness of treachery which stamps with infamy the pitiless day of the betrayal. Well might it be said of it, "Let that day be darkness; let not God regard it from above, neither let the light shine upon it." Calmly, gently, the LORD had announced its coming to His disciples without a word of reproach, or of the bitter anguish it would bring to Him Whose very Being was perfect love. He had closed His public teaching upon earth with the one word "Watch," the solemn emphatic word that reverberates through all the vanished centuries on every living soul with its concentrated warning. Then without comment He divulged the secret act of Judas.
"And it came to pass when Jesus had finished all these sayings, He said unto His disciples, Ye know that after two days is the feast of the Passover, and the Son of Man is betrayed,--and at night He went out and abode in the mount that is called the mount of Olives."
"He abode in the mount." No other record is given of the period which elapsed between His last farewell to the glorious temple, so soon like the Sacred Body of which it was the type, to be delivered into the hands of ruthless men, and that divine hour when He was to celebrate the Holy Mysteries for the first time in the upper room. It seems plain, therefore, that throughout the veiled day of His betrayal, when no sign of His Presence on earth is given to us in His Holy Word, He abode in the mount, bearing on His Heart before the Just Eternal GOD the multitudes that should betray Him. Not for Judas only did the Son of Man agonize beneath the Shadow of His Passion during the long hours when He knew that the archtraitor was taking counsel with His enemies against the Anointed of the LORD, goaded on by the unseen accuser of the brethren, although to Him Who loves each individual soul as if none other existed in the universe, the hideous treachery of that one false follower must in truth have pierced His divine heart with an intolerable pain.
"It is not an open enemy that hath done Me this dishonour, for these I could have borne it, but it was even thou My companion, Mine own familiar friend."
Borne by the sighing wind to the murmuring trees around Him, He must in His omniscience have heard the voice that had so often spoken to Him in words of love and reverence now whispering to His foes, "What will ye give me, and I will deliver Him unto you?"
He had willed so fully to assume our human nature, that He might be able to share in every sinless pang which we can feel, and thus the cruel defection of a trusted friend must have brought such a bitterness of pain as some amongst us may have known perhaps only too well, while far beyond our comprehension must have been the awful suffering wrought on the SON of GOD by His foreknowledge of the traitor's doom. All this, we dare not doubt,--this anguish in its twofold form, was multiplied that day in the fathomless spirit of the LORD of all, by every thought, and word, and deed of unfaithfulness whereby He knew He should ever be betrayed in the ages yet to come.
As we watch by Him there beneath the ever-deepening shadow, does not our awakened conscience sting us with keenest pang as it reveals to us the many occasions when by a subtle scarce conscious treachery we may have ourselves betrayed Him? The thirty pieces of silver which tempted the traitor to his hateful crime have appeared to us in guise of all these fair allurements of the world which cannot be enjoyed consistently with unreserved devotion to the Crucified LORD. Whenever our own pleasure or the claims of our earthly affections have stood between us and our Redeemer, we have betrayed Him, but these are forms of treachery which are easily detected; there are others of a far more specious nature whereby we may too surely have done so more completely.
In these days when pride of intellect, of scientific progress, and of freedom have all alike arrayed themselves against the LORD and His written Word, are we not often tempted to shrink from drawing down contempt upon ourselves by upholding openly the old faiths which so called enlightenment has trampled under foot? It is easy to say to ourselves that we are too weak to argue with stronger minds, that it is better to be silent even when our Master is traduced, than to give feeble and uncertain support to His holy truth; but let us examine our souls in sight of Him Whose mournful eyes in these sad hours looked down the vista of the future to its uttermost limit, and noted every shade of unfaithfulness which should mar the union of His people with Himself, and we shall surely detect that not humility but human respect held us back from speaking boldly in the name of CHRIST whenever His Faith has in any way been assailed in our presence. May we not also find too probably that we have tacitly connived at forms of error whether in doctrine or practice, under the spurious guise of a charity that seeks to veil the faults of others? Then, indeed, do we betray the Son of Man with a kiss, as also when we use our influence as one of His professed followers for any selfish purpose of our own.
In other and in simpler ways it may be that we betray Him daily. We are vowed to His unflinching service by His Sacraments and our own will, and wheresoever we have failed in perseverance or in sternest duty, we may in our measure have betrayed Him every hour. Truly the dread that in these and many other ways we may be self-deceiving traitors to our beloved LORD, causes the shadow of this day to lie with a dense and heavy gloom upon our spirits. Yet is the consolation which the Divine One offers to us all, if only we faint and fail not, through this our little day of earthly life, more dear, more entrancing in its promises than human thought can ever compass, since far beyond the confines of the grave that once enclosed Him, far above the mighty stone which the angels rolled away from His deserted tomb, from out the Beatific Vision of the Resurrection Life, the Voice of Him Who was dead and is alive sounds like the fall of living waters in the glorious words, "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life."