A Word Out of Silence
The chant of the Passion plunges us into silence. The Word has been silenced. Only a fool would dare to speak. Anything less than a word out of silence is unworthy of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ; anything more is superfluous. If I am so foolish as to preach today, it is for the sake of silence: a word out of silence, a word into silence. Like Saint Paul, “I am with you in weakness and in much fear and trembling” (1 Cor 2:3). If I offer you words, their only purpose is to guide you into the harbour of an immense and solemn stillness.
Pierced by the Passion
Dr. Sutton, an English divine of the sixteenth century imagined a dialogue between the soul pierced by hearing the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ:
Lord, wherefore diddest thou suffer thyself to be sold?
That I might deliver thee from servitude. . .
Wherefore diddest thou sweat blood?
To wash away the spots of thy sin. . .
Why wouldest thou be bound?
To loose the bands of thy sins. . .
Why wert thou denied of Peter?
To confess thee before my Father. . .
Why wouldest thou be accused?
To absolve thee. . .
Why wouldest thou be spitted on?
To wipe away thy foulness. . .
Why wouldest thou be whipped?
That thou mightest be freed from stripes. . .
Why wouldest thou be lifted up upon the Cross?
That thou mightest be lifted up to heaven. . .
Why were thine arms stretched out?
To imbrace thee, O fainting soul. . .
Why was thy side opened?
To receive thee in. . .
Why didst thou die amidst two thieves?
That thou mightest live in the midst of angels.
The Mystery of the Cross
The love revealed to us in the mystery of the Cross is an unspeakable love. The mystery of the Cross is ineffable. Divinely foolish. In the immense and solemn stillness of this Great Week, our silence will reach its highest expression in song and again our song will come to rest in the silence of an unspeakable love. In the silence and song of the Holy Week liturgy, folly will be revealed as wisdom. Weakness will be clothed in power. The mystery of the Cross will shine forth and in its radiance, “we all, with unveiled face will behold the glory of the Lord” (2 Cor 3: 18).
A Radiance Darkly Veiled
“The word of the cross, says Saint Paul, is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor 1:18). The mystery of the Cross is hidden from the eyes of mere spectators. The wisdom of the Cross eludes those who would analyze it. The radiance of the Cross is darkly veiled, shrouded in tragedy and failure. Human reasoning strains and struggles to make sense of it and even so sees nothing more than an impenetrable obscurity.
The Cross cannot be understood from without nor from below. The mystery of the Cross is revealed to those who allow themselves to be lifted up in its rough-hewn arms and held in its embrace. There is no salvation for those who remain outside of the mystery of the Cross. The power and wisdom of God are operative only in the weakness and foolishness of the Cross. It is, as we sing at Vespers, our “only hope.” “And I, when I am lifted up, says the Lord, will draw all men to myself. He said this to show by what death He was to die” (Jn 12:32-33).
Fear of the Cross
Most of us are repulsed by the Cross. We live in fear of suffering. We would prefer that it not touch us. We are willing to contemplate the Cross from a distance, willing to place it on our walls or to wear it over our hearts. It is quite another thing to be lifted up in its arms, to surrender to its embrace and to remain there naked, exposed and vulnerable. And yet, the saints and mystics — all those who have surrendered to the embrace of the Cross — are unanimous in testifying that for those who are lifted up to the Cross and remain there, the Cross becomes a safe harbour, a haven of peace, a place of rest. It becomes the tree of life, the marriage bed, and the altar of sacrifice.
The Ship Coming into Harbour
An ancient liturgical text describes the beginning of Holy Week as a ship coming into harbour. The Cross of Christ is our safe haven and our place of rest. The Lord speaks to us and says: “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Mt 11:28-29). The yoke of Jesus Christ is fashioned from the wood of the Cross. Those whom He draws to Himself find rest with Him in the arms of the Cross. When we refuse to be lifted up, when we struggle and strain against the Cross, we condemn ourselves to a long and restless agony, saying with Job: “My heart is in turmoil and is never still” (Jb 30:27). When we surrender to the embrace of the Cross, we rest with Christ in the will of the Father. We discover that the will of the Father is always love and so begin to pray: “Father, not my will, but yours, be done” (Lk 22:42).
Marriage Bed and Altar
The Cross is the “tree that is planted beside flowing waters, that yields its fruit in due season and whose leaves never fade” (Ps 1:3). The Cross, incandescent with the fire of charity, is the bush that Moses saw “burning and yet not consumed” (Ex 3:2). The Cross is the marriage bed upon which is consummated the love of Christ the Bridegroom and of His Bride, the Church. The Cross is the altar from which ascends a fragrant offering and a song of praise: the paschal sacrifice of Christ offered to the Father in the Holy Spirit.
How do we pass over from struggle to rest, from the tempest to the harbour? How do we pass over from the barren desert to the tree of life, from isolation to communion? How do we pass over from the threshold to the altar, and from the altar to God? By means of the Cross. Holy Week is the time of our great Passover: the passage from darkness to light, from sadness to joy, from time to eternity, from death to life. And so we are drawn to the Cross and the Cross is offered to us, in this and in every Mass. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the place and the means and the price of our Passover, for the Mass is the Church held in the embrace of the Cross.
The Embrace of the Cross
If you are weary, come to the altar, surrender to the embrace of the Cross. If you are fearful and isolated, come to the altar, surrender to the embrace of the Cross. If you are bitter, or bruised, or fragmented, come to the altar, surrender to the embrace of the Cross. If you hunger and thirst for holiness, come to the altar, surrender to the embrace of the Cross. If you would ascend with Christ to the Father, if you would make of your life a fragrant offering, come to the altar, surrender to the embrace of the Cross. If you would leave behind the darkness of the cold tomb, if you would know the joy of resurrection, come to the altar, surrender to the embrace of the Cross.
Salve, Festa Dies
Together let surrender to the mystery of the Cross. Together let us receive from the altar the mystery of the Cross, and so enter into the silence and into the song of the great and glorious Pasch of the Lord. In a week’s time, having passed over from death to life, from the seven days of measured time into the mystic Eighth Day, we will hail the festival day of Him who triumphs over hell and holds the stars of heaven in His hand (cf. Salve, Festa Dies, Easter Processional Hymn).