The altars and tabernacles of the whole world are stripped of their frontals and hangings, the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in a quiet nook, the music is sombre, and there is no celebration of Mass. It is a bleak liturgy and intentionally so, meaningfully so. We may use this liturgy to fully enter into the pain of Christ’s Passion. Books have been written on it and films made. But we shall find our own way, concentrating on the methods of torture that were used against Him.
The flogging the red robe and the crown of thorns were horrid snipes at Jesus. They were making fun of him. They pressed the thorn deeply into his head and the blood flowed down. Everyone laughed at him.
The hymn asks: ‘Who crucified thee… I crucified thee.’ And it was us. It was humanity. Those who caused Jesus that pain and death were not all just horrible people, through and through. They will have themselves given and received love in their lives. Christ asked God to forgive them. Yet we can be so full of a similar hatred. We show it often when we don’t even realize. We hate particular kinds of people, or specific people who have made our lives difficult. Hatred is intoxicating, and it can spread – to use a word we all know well – like a pandemic. Notice, though, that there is no hatred today from Christ. In the midst of a terrifying story Jesus remains a rock of forgiveness and peace. We, humanity, crucify him through our own hatred of others. God is in those people that we hate. God lives in the minorities that we shun, even in the people who do us harm. It is an intensely difficult thing to own our part in the crucifixion. Yet, we were there, in that crowd, to some degree or another.
On the Cross, Jesus spoke to the thief. He promised him eternal happiness. Even as he was being killed, he was forgiving and loving. He even finds excuses for forgiving his own tormentors: ‘Forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ That is how much he loves us.
Perhaps, sometimes, we don’t know what we do. We don’t think. Yet God still loves us. Christ still died for us on the cross. And, as we go through our lives, he is asking us to take that same posture as him. The cross is, after all, our symbol of love. A symbol in which love reigns over hate. Christ asks us to love even in the face of hatred. And he shows us that it is far from impossible to do.