The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ Crucified
A mournful scene, tragic and tearful beyond compare, and yet a work of God marvelous beyond our imagination is set before us today. It is too marvelous for even the angels to comprehend and, accordingly, the cherubim in the sanctuary gaze on the divine propitiatory as if lost in wonder. Since the propitiatory was an image of the divinity, as the cherubim there were images of the angels, it was sprinkled with much blood, for on the Day of Atonement the high priest entered the sanctuary and sprinkled it seven times with the sacred blood of a bullock and a goat. This is truly amazing. What has God to do with blood? Hence, we read in Isaiah: Who is this that comes from Edom, in crimsoned garments, from Bozrah? … Why is your apparel red? … Their blood spurted on my garments.
The angels are not amazed to see God on the throne of his majesty in Paradise, but are astonished to see him on the cross on Calvary. They do not stand in awe of the sun, because with the splendor of its heavenly rays it lights up the whole world, all the stars, the heavens, the atmosphere, the seas, and the earth, but are amazed when through the interposition of the moon this fountain of light suffers an eclipse. So also Moses was truly astounded when God appeared to him in the desert among the thorns of a burning bush, so amazed that he said: I must go over to look at this remarkable sight
We have an amazing mystery today, for it is at the same time both a work of God and a work of Satan. The Jews were simultaneously ministers and instruments both of God and of Satan. For if at the instigation of the devil Judas sold and betrayed Christ, he do so because the devil had already induced Judas … to hand him over … After he took the morsel, Satan entered him
. The Lord, therefore, says to the Jews who came to arrest him in the garden: This is your hour, the time for the power of darkness
. It is likewise a work of God and, consequently, Christ prays in the garden: Your will be done … Yet, not as I will, but as you will … If it is not possible that this cup pass without my drinking it, your will be done! He says to peter, therefore, Shall I not drink the cup that the Father gave me? Paul says, accordingly, He … did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all. Therefore, in crucifying Christ the Jews did the will of God and the will of Satan and were common ministers of two diametrically opposed rulers.
This mystery, therefore, shows two faces, in a sense, one as a work of God and the other as a work of Satan, like that column of cloud and fire stationed between the two armies of the Hebrews and the Egyptians that was totally dark for one and filled with brilliant light for the other, like the cloud in which God descended to give the law, dark and gloomy on the outside, but bright and resplendent on the inside. So Paul says that the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God, and: We proclaims Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles
, but for those who are being saved the power of God and the wisdom of God
. Something similar happened to Joseph in the persecution which he endured from his brothers, for he said: It was not really you but God who had me come here
. This is true also of the passion of Christ.
In so far as this was a work of Satan, in fact, the passion of Christ was a work of infinite evil, deserving to have God rise up with just wrath and indignation to destroy the whole world and reduce it to nothing, with far greater justice than when he annihilated Pentapolis with fire or when he destroyed all on an earth overrun with wickedness with the waters of the flood. For as a result of this evil the sun was darkened, the heavens were shaken, and the earth quaked as if the whole fabric of the world would disintegrate and melt away.
But in so far as it was a work of God, it is a mystery filled with infinite loving kindness, divinity, and the everlasting power of God. The cross is that ark of the covenant, in which were reserved the mysteries of God's power, wisdom and goodness. It is the miracle of all the works of God, like the sun amidst the stars. The Psalmist says that the heavens declare the glory of God
, just as the work praises its maker, for the immense machinery of this world manifests the infinite power and wisdom and goodness of God. The Most High, the artisan of all things, performed all these works to manifest these treasures of his divinity. That work of God, however, must be considered preeminent in which all these attributes shine out most splendidly. These are much more resplendent and far more evident in the work of the incarnation than in the work of creation. For in the creation, it is true, a world was given to us, but in the work of the incarnation, the author of the world himself was given to us, the infinite treasury of all good things, the fountain of life and eternal happiness.
But as it is from its fruits that one tree is judged better than another, for that which produces the better and more excellent fruits must be judged to be the better and more excellent tree, so judgment can be passed on the works of God. The work of creation was surely a great work of God and astounding beyond our comprehension, yet for this immense tree we have gathered only two fruits: one is our corporeal life which is, indeed, joyful and sweet, yet at the same time also mortal, brief, uncertain, beset with many dangers, afflicted with many sorrows; whereas the other fruit has reference to our mind. It is that natural philosophy which is a manifold knowledge of things, as well as the contemplation of divinity, for God's invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made
. Yet at the same time it is very true that all things are hard; man cannot explain them by word
. Consequently that very wise Socrates said: “I know only one thing, that I know nothing.” for we scarcely ever acquire a precise knowledge and certain comprehension but at best a probably and approximate opinion with much effort, since we do not know the forms and definitions of things nor do we have conclusive proofs.
The effects of the passion of Christ, the fruits of the cross, are many, remarkable, extremely salutary, and divine. For in addition to the glory which the cross generated for Christ, as Paul says: Christ became obedient for us and obedient to death, even death on a cross
. Because of this, God greatly exalted him
, the Church is a fruit of Christ's passion, as Paul says, The Holy Spirit has appointed you overseers, in which you tend the Church of God that he acquired with his own blood
. For it was while Adam was asleep that Eve was formed; it was after the Passover lamb had been slain that the people of God departed from Egypt. And so today a thief is converted to Christ as well as a centurion: Truly, this was the Son of God! …
And the final consideration is that the priest sprinkled even the divine propitiatory seven times with that sacred blood. And the cherubim, who are images of the angels in heaven, gaze with awe , so to say, upon this event. That propitiatory was a representation of God's majesty. It is totally astonishing, therefore, to see God sprinkled and stained with blood. Blood, moreover, is a symbol of suffering and death for, when it pours out its blood, an animals suffers and dies. All philosophy, moreover, with no dissenting voice, attributes to God omnipotence, a majesty that rules all things, the ordering of the heavens and of nature, eternal beatitude and everlasting immortality, and, finally, the infinite treasury of all good things. So also the eternal and totally brilliant sun of the divine nature shines forth, so to say, with these seven rays. Today, however, this sun appears to have suffered a total eclipse as, in fact, it did at the time of Christ's death. The divine propitiatory made entirely of gold, however, was resplendent like the sun and, accordingly, that is why the cherubim gazed in awe to see it sprinkled with blood. Today this divine propitiatory is so covered with blood that scarcely even in the smallest part does the brilliance of gold shine through, for from the time when Christ was arrested in the garden up until his last breath on the cross, scarcely any sign at all of his divinity was evident, no sign of his omnipotence or wisdom or goodness, no hint of his majesty and glory, no indication of his divine blessedness and immortality, no trace of all his riches, the king, now in disguise, had gone into battle.
The passion of Christ our Lord is presented in Scripture not merely in one but rather in many ways. First of all, It is spoken of as a very bitter martyrdom and a very fierce persecution, which he suffered at the hands of the Jews. And it was thus that his passion was prefigured in the death of Abel, in the bitter persecution of Joseph by his brothers, and in the slaying of the prophets. At other s times it is also presented as a sacrifice most pleasing to God, and this is how it is prefigured in the sacrifice of Isaac, the sacrifice of the virgin daughter of Jephthah, the sacrifice of atonement and the other sacrifices conducted in the temple. Sometimes it is also presented as a model for virtues and and a remedy against vice and sins, and this is how it is prefigured in the patience of Job, in the lifting up of the bronze serpent, in the staff of Moses which was converted into a viper that destroyed the serpents of Pharaoh's magicians. And at other times, finally, it is portrayed as a great and, in fact, as an immensely great and divine blessing, and this is how it is prefigured in the slaughter of the Passover lamb, in the striking of the rock in the desert, in Jonah thrown into the sea to save the ship from sinking. So we also need to meditate on the passion in these four ways today.
Christ's passion, correctly viewed, is also a work of divine love: God so loved the world. The kindness and generous love of God our Savior appeared
; a work of God's justice in punishing sin; a work of his power against Satan, much as Samson displayed his strength in allowing himself to be taken prisoner, bound, and betrayed into the hands of the his enemies, for so Christ did today; and, finally, a work of God's wisdom who knew how to convert such an immense evil into good for us. So Christ's passion has the four faces found in Ezechiel, that of a man, an ox, a lion, and an eagle.
(Source: from "Lenten Sermons, Volume IV in Opera Omnia, Collected Sermons and Homilies of St. Lawrence of Brindisi." Translated from the Latin by Vernon Wagner, O.F.M.Cap., and available for purchase online at: www.mediahousedelhi.com)