April 13, 2017
If I were to ask each of you what was the actual last day of Christ’s life on earth, most of you probably would say Friday. And to some extent you would be correct. However, we need to take in consideration when days begin and end from the Hebrew perspective, and when we do so, it gives us some perspective on Holy Thursday. It may seem like “splitting hairs” as they say, but let’s be dramatic for a bit.
The Hebrew day always begins at sundown; the night before. As the sun set over Jerusalem, that’s when it all began; or better to say when it all started to end. Jesus’s last day began Thursday night.
And everything turned toward His suffering and death. It all began at sunset - the Passover and the Lamb. He then went out to the garden of Gethsemane where they arrested Him and brought Him to the High Priests. They put Him on trial and condemned Him to death.
At dawn they took Him to Pontius Pilate. He was then beaten, mocked, scourged, and led through the streets of Jerusalem to be nailed to the cross. He suffered in agony for hours and then said, “It is finished,” and died. They took down His body and laid it in a tomb. The sunset over Jerusalem, and the day was finished.
It all took place in that exact time, sunset to sunset.
Now if I asked you what is the “day of man” - as in mankind - you would probably be puzzled by the question. And so I could pose a question to you in this way, “What was the day when mankind was created?” And obviously you are all smart enough to figure it out, however you probably won’t think of the answer I’m looking for, because you don’t know where I’m headed with the conversation.
Mankind was created on the sixth day. God created everything in the heavens and on the earth on particular days, but mankind - as in Adam and Eve - was created on the sixth day. So going by our Gregorian calendar, Friday is the sixth day.
Thursday night at sundown, and with it ends on Friday night at sundown - from sundown to sundown, we have the sixth day.
So it all had to begin at sunset and last until the following sunset. God had accomplished it all on the sixth day, the day of mankind. So Jesus as God died for the sins of mankind, the guilt of mankind, and the fall of mankind. He did it all on the “day of man” to accomplish mankind’s redemption.
It was on the sixth day also that mankind was first given life. So now in Christ, the children of mankind can again be given life, again find life, as in the beginning - on the sixth day.
And so here we are on Maundy Thursday, where all the significant aspects of Holy Week begins at sundown - the signifying last day of our Lord. And so it is that we celebrate His last supper, and in some churches - washing the feet of someone just as Jesus did, and it is also the day in which the bishop of any given Catholic, Anglican or Episcopal diocese will bless the oils that will be used for the various sacraments within the church for the coming year.
On the night before his suffering, Jesus went to the garden of Gethsemane. There He surrendered His will and began to face His approaching sufferings and death. It was there, in the garden of Gethsemane, that the Temple guards came to arrest Him. Gethsemane is the place where His sufferings begin.
If we were to look at an oil press at that time; the time Jesus lived, we would see a very large stone object lying flat with a large stone wheel on top of it. The olives would be placed here on the top and the large wheel like stone would roll over them, crushing them. The crushing of the olives would release their oil. In Hebrew, the word for olive oil is shemen. And the word for press is gat. An oil press is a gat-shemen. And what does gat-shemen sound like?
Gethsemane is the oil press. And we might ask why it is the place where Christ’s sufferings began. Christ is the Messiah. And the word Messiah is linked to oil, olive oil, shemen. The term comes from the Hebrew verb meaning "to apply oil to," to anoint. In the Hebrew Bible, Israel's kings were sometimes called God's "messiah" -- God's anointed one.
Now for oil to be released there must be a crushing. Gethsemane, gat-shemen, is the olive press, the place where the crushing begins - first the crushing of His will, then the crushing of His life.
In the Scriptures, oil is linked to healing and joy, and, in its most sacred application, to anointing. Oil would be poured out to anoint kings and prophets. In our day, it would be used for ordaining of clergy, baptisms, anointing of the sick, just to name a few. So oil, in its highest symbolism, signifies the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It is a visible sign for an invisible grace from God.
And so, if the crushing of olives in the olive press releases oil, then the crushing of Christ at Gethsemane, would be linked to healing, joy, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It is in the crushing of Christ, in His death, which brings about healing, joy, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It all begins in the oil press, gat-shemen at Gethsemane. (It is very fitting that we discuss this on the day we bless the Sacred Oils for the Church.)
And so it is on this day and Good Friday, which we remember Christ’s suffering. As a Liberal Catholic Church, we don’t tend to focus so much on the suffering death of our Lord Christ, because we tend to focus more on the beatific vision of our Savior ascended Christ, hence why many of our crucifixes have the risen Christ or Christ the King on them within our parishes.
However, even in our rite, at this time of year, we are called to remember what Christ did for us. It is all fine and wonderful to get the warm and fuzzies about a risen Christ, but if we do not acknowledge, remember, and contemplate what Christ did for us, so that we can have the warm and fuzzies about our ascended Christ, then we are missing a great deal of the point of Christianity.
Let’s visualize this for a moment so that we may remember.
A man is struggling up a dirt path. He struggles, and is probably too weak from the scourging that happened earlier to adequately bear the massive wooden beam that is resting on His shoulders. He falls and catches himself, takes a breath, and stands up again to continue His trek. He only has a few hundred meters left.
It’s a lonely place - a rock outcropping with a vision of Jerusalem below. Another tall beam is already in its place standing upright buried in the dirt. He knows that when He arrives, the soldiers will fix the beam currently upon His shoulders high up onto that other wooden beam already in place on the rock. They will nail Him to it, and He will die. He knows all this while He’s making his trek. Telling the women gathered to not weep for Him, but for themselves.
And He stumbles again, but this time He has not enough strength to upright himself. He tries to stand only to fall again. The blood from the wounds on His back are still flowing freely and heavily, and He can no longer move except to barely take a breath into His lungs. And so a soldier grabs someone, some passerby that we later learn is little bit more significant than just a “nobody,” and thrusts the beam upon him to carry. Then they dragged the Man who is on His knees to His feet and pull Him forward once again. And even without the weight of the beam He still has great difficulty walking. Some of the crowd goad and jeer while gawking at Him as He eventually stumbles on.
We all know that Jesus suffered a great deal. He was tortured so much that He was unable to carry the beam that might’ve weighed roughly 100 pounds. And it’s only approximately one third of a mile of a walk, but He still had little strength to carry it and it might’ve been a struggle for someone who had not even been tortured previously to carry it.
We can only imagine the pain that He must’ve suffered. And the way the blood from the beatings ran down His back and mixed with dust from the street as He walked – we can only imagine that also. The blood dried as it ran down His legs and became sticky, attracted dust and solidified into a mess.
We can barely even imagine thinking about the agony when soldiers placed 100 pound beam across that broken flesh, on exposed muscle and bone, making every step near death.
With all that suffering the He must’ve endured, it’s not hard to see Him struggling, and then falling and rising, and doing it all over again. It would be surprising to most of us how He carried the beam at all, much less walked.
And as we approach Easter, as Liberal Catholics, it certainly would be easy to simply skip this part of the Easter story, including Jesus as He is tortured and some of the most brutal of scenes. It’s so much easier to simply look another way, pass directly from His arrest and go straight to his resurrection three days later.
Yes it would be easy to do that, but the problem is, that’s not how it happened. Like it or not, our ascended Christ suffered that we might live! People want to pass over the story because it hurts. Brutality of His suffering is just something too hard to acknowledge, but yet it will raise our compassion, especially when we stop to think that all of this torture and agony that He suffered was for our sake.
So, sometimes His suffering becomes our guilt and shame, and we would much rather just ignore it and focus on his ascended beauty in the risen Christ. But the problem with avoiding this is this, when we try to avoid all that Jesus suffered; it is merely helping us avoid the fullness of what He took on himself for us. As Saint Peter said, “By His wounds you have been healed” (I Peter 2:24).
It is His wounds – the torture that He endured and aided in His death - that becomes a door to wholeness and fullness in this life and to the eternal life in the next. Without this struggle and torture, He would not have risen again. Without Jesus’ pain and ultimate death, there is no healing. Without the heavy, dark middle of this story, there is no hope.
Jesus suffered and died and rose again so the people might live with Him forever in a gloriously restored new heaven and new earth. This is our hope. But His suffering also offers hope right now, if we are willing to embrace our pain as He embraced His. We all are suffering with something currently - big or small - we still suffer.
Without a shadow of doubt the pain that Jesus experienced was beyond what most of His followers will possibly ever experience today, with the exception of some areas that terrorism against Christians still takes place. Some of us have physical maladies, some psychological, some with a loss that we grieve from, and the list continues. We try to lay these aside just as we lay aside the parts of the Easter story that is too painful.
But when we see Jesus in the complete Easter story, we see that He did not avoid the pain. In fact He even seemed to embrace it. He was God! He could have called down legions of Angels at any moment. He did not. He stayed while they tried Him, while they beat Him and abused Him, and He stayed when He was bloodied and weak, and they still made Him carry that massive beam for His own death up on that hill. The humiliation that must have been! He knew that no oil comes from olives that are not crushed, and so He willingly became crushed that His oil might flow for us.
And so today, in this sermon, I am forcing us to take a little bit of a look at what our blessed Lord experienced so that we have hope. In one of our creeds of our church, it states the belief that “all sons and daughters shall one day reach his feet however far they stray.” And though this may be all warm and fuzzy, we must remember that if it were not for the Easter story - the complete Easter story - we would not be able to say this creed with any confidence, because we would not have had a Lord who suffered Easter so that we might have that hope.
Let us pray.
Father God, it is on this night many years ago, when Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ entered into His trials preceding His crucifixion. We ask that You help us to properly remember these events as we participate in the Easter Tridium.
What our Blessed Lord experienced now through Good Friday is beyond our imaginings. Most of us will never come close to the suffering that He endured. As gruesome as some of these events were, we ask that You flood our minds with understanding and be open to the events that took place; fore it is only within this understanding that we can most worthily appreciate the salvation we now are able to participate in.
We are not nearly worthy enough to enter Your Kingdom, but in Your mercy and grace, You have made us all worthy and loved through Your Son, Jesus Christ. May we truly contemplate and meditate on these mysteries as we approach and celebrate the great feast of Easter. We ask this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.