When Pilate was set down upon the judgment-seat, his wife sent Unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man: For I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of Him. (St. Matthew 27. 19)
There is a good deal of silence that descends upon the Christian Church during Holy Week. The silence is meant to come, no doubt, as a response to the Passion and Crucifixion of the Son of God. Holy Week has been set aside from the time of the early Church to ponder our Lord’s suffering in silence. If we approach this time with a determined silence and stillness, we will, no doubt, find that it will interrupt and confound the usual course of human reason and its expectations, as it tears and wrenches the human heart from the fulfillment of its usual desire. Then, if we sustain the stillness, and with a quiet mind ponder the unfolding drama of Holy Week, the blanket of divine otherness might begin to warm our souls, clothing them with the Word that desires to love us into death and new life.
Following Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem He had told his Apostles: All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad. (St. Matthew 26.31) This Word that was made flesh would be rejected on a number of different levels. Men always find excuses for refusing to allow the Word to be made flesh in them. In the interests of political expedience, Pilate will believe that he has rid the world of a fleeting religious nuisance. The Jews’ self-righteous indignation will be justified…or so they think. His Disciples will abandon Him out of confused fear and cowardice. Peter will deny Him, and Judas Iscariot will betray Him.
In the lections for today, we already begin to see and hear the truth that will emerge through the trial, arrest, and condemnation of Jesus Christ. Pontius Pilate, Governor of Judaea, will attempt to bring temporal calm and stillness out of earthly chaos and confusion, on what should be just another peaceful Friday afternoon in a relatively obscure outpost of the Roman Empire. He seems a reasonable and just enough man, who is neither drawn to nor impressed by the strange religion of the Jewish Aristocracy, which has interrupted his day. He is commissioned with enforcing the Pax Romana –the peace of Octavian Augustus that has civilized the world through Roman Law. So he will do his best to treat the problem of this Jesus of Nazareth as expeditiously as possible with a kind of Stoical calm and indifference that made Rome famous. With all the might of Caesar’s power behind him, he will attempt to banish the Jews back to their religious ghetto. Judge Christ yourselves, he commanded, or send Him to Herod….(St. John xxviii. 31) Then another kind of stillness, silence, and peace will emerge from this Christ he interrogates. Pilate marvel[s] greatly. (St. Matthew xxvii., 14) His wife has the spiritual sense to warn him to have nothing do with that just man (Ibid, 19) and in a sense he will try to do just that. The crowd will become restless and demand that Barabbas be released and Jesus be crucified. Pilate’s conscience is nevertheless stirred, for he finds no evil or crime in the defendant. Why, what evil hath he done? (Ibid, 23) Let Him be crucified, they cry. In response to the passionate envy that will threaten further chaos and anarchy, we shall read that, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see you to it. (Ibid, 24) The Jews will confess: His blood be on us, and on our children. (Ibid, 25)
Many people, Christians and others, have no time for Jesus of Nazareth, for the Word of God’s Love in the flesh. As T. S. Eliot reminds us, Christ speaks to them and us:
O my people, what have I done unto thee.
Where shall the word be found, where will the word
Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence
Not on the sea or on the islands, not
On the mainland, in the desert or the rain land,
For those who walk in darkness
Both in the daytime and in the night time
The right time and the right place are not here
No place of grace for those who avoid the face
No time to rejoice for those who walk among noise and deny the voice
(Ash Wednesday: Eliot, v.)
But for those who can become contemplatively still and quiet by God’s Grace, the sound and sight of the God’s Word of Love will emerge through the suffering and death of Christ His Son. From the unmoving and silent center –the heart of the Son of God who will be suffering and dying not only to the world, the flesh, and the devil enfleshed in others, but also to Himself, the Word will be seen and heard. It will be perceived and received, slowly, even imperceptibly, by those who have chosen to believe and to follow. And the light shone in darkness and/ Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled/ About the centre of the silent Word. (Ibid) For though the world and its words will assault and kill Jesus Christ, the Word of God endures, to be spoken from the center and through the stillness of His unchanged and unaltered desire for all men’s salvation. For this Word made flesh –this Jesus Christ– always sees and hears, and then reveals and expresses His Father’s will to the world. He came from God and He will return to God. But not before He willingly offers himself to God and man by becoming the wall of division that must be broken down. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. (1 Cor. v. 21)
This morning, with St. Paul, we remember that though He was in the form of God, He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. (Phil. 2. 6-8) Jesus Christ empties Himself of His humanity, in order that pure powerlessness might be placed back in the hands of God, the maker and molder of all new life. He will not desperately grab for, grasp at, or clutch to to His Divinity in the hour of His human impotence and desperation. Rather He prefers to obey, fear, and follow God with all the humanity that remains to Him. He will become the Man who once again is the servant of God because God’s will and Word alone suffice to secure Man’s unbreakable union with Him. He will be one with the Word of the Father that He sees and hears. This is the only Word that can reveal and manifest the eternal Desire of God for His people. This is the Word of Love that conquers hate, the Word of Good that conquers evil, and the Word of Truth that conquers falsehood.
This week, I pray, that each of us shall make time to travel up with Jesus to His Cross. We can travel with the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. John looking and listening in silence and stillness, wondering at the Word. This Word of God in Christ will, mostly, be silent. Pilate marveled, and so will we. We shall contemplate what sin does to the Word of God’s Love in the flesh, who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth: Who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not; but committed himself to Him that judgeth righteously (1 Peter 2. 22, 23). This is a Love that first touches and moves the still and silent hearts of those who remain faithful to Him. This is the Love that was first seen and heard in miracles and parables, and now from the Cross persists in revealing Himself to the world in perfect power, as forgiveness and love. This is the Love whose forgiveness will make today’s enemies into the friend’s of God’s tomorrow.
This week, let us listen to the silent Word of God’s Love alive in the heart of the dying Saviour. Let us listen as the Word of Love makes innocent suffering and death the occasion for His persistent pursuit of our salvation. Let us listen to the Word of Love that calls us into death. Let us be determined to die in the embrace of Love which offers Himself to God and to us in one knot of fire that purges away all cruelty, malice, malevolence, ill will, envy, and pride. Let us be determined to leave our old sinful selves behind that the new Man in all of us may be made alive. And let us remember, in stillness and silence, as we comtemplate the Word of God’s Love in suffering and death, that, as R. S. Thomas writes,
It’s not that He can’t speak;
who created languages
but God? Nor that He won’t;
to say that is to imply
malice. It is just that
He doesn’t, or does so at times
when we are not listening, in
ways we have yet to recognize