…if you were alive during the blessed time in which God Incarnate walked among men, would you have done anything differently this week?
It is Holy Thursday. Most of us are anticipating a beautiful Liturgy, a moving Paschal evening, and looking with eagerness toward Great Friday and then the conclusion of the Pascha. Hopefully this week is more than just feeling good about being in church so much. Hopefully we do not take a comfort in merely having gone to so many Paschal services, beating our records from last year. Hopefully, we are looking at ourselves and crying at our sins.
Here I ask you and myself a question if you were alive during the blessed time in which God Incarnate walked among men, would you have done anything differently this week? It is so easy for us to judge the Jews, to judge Judas, to judge everyone and everything that went wrong that week but in honesty, what would you have done. Who would you have been?
I hope you at least paused before coming up with the answer… The choice is actually very difficult, which evil do you belong to?
Surely you would not choose to be Judas. After all, this was the man who walked with our Lord as a friend, and at first sight of enticement dropped His master in a flash for temporary enjoyment. You would not identify yourself with such a traitor, would you?
Maybe that is not as absurd as it sounds. Have we never chosen sleep over the Liturgy? Have we ever chosen an extra half hour of television instead of sitting down and reading the Holy Bible? Have we ever played games so late that we are too tired to pray? Have we ever decided to play down our Christianity for the sake of having a little bit of fun? If we have done any of these, we are traitors as well. We sell Him for less than those 30 pieces of silver.
Maybe you would choose to be Pilate. The man seems practical. He is very dramatic, too. “Behold the man!” he says. Behold indeed. It seems like he almost understood. He found no guilt in the Lord. Would you choose him? No, you would say. No, because he washed his hands from the blood of Christ. He recognized the Lord’s innocence and still handed Him over to be killed. You would say no because it was in his power to do good, and he did not. You would say no because he cared more about his image and getting into all sorts of trouble with people than he did about killing the Innocent One.
Are we completely different from him? Do we ever think we can somehow wash away our hands from our sins, as though we did nothing; take a blind eye and smile about everything as though it never happened? I am not so sure. Do we never worry more about our image than the Image in which we were created? Do we ever sin to fit in? Sin so that we do not get beat up? Sin so that we can protect ourselves, our positions, our status among mere men? When we sin, are we not handing Him over to be killed as well? Maybe there is a little bit of Pilate in each of us.
Did you choose to be a Jew? Some of you might scoff. After all, they rejected our Lord, they had the prophecies before them, and they asked for His death. It was by their choice and because of their own hypocrisy and self-righteousness that the Lord endured His lashes, His crown of thorns, the nails driven through His flesh.… Surely it was an evil and a cursed generation…, but… – but, think – honestly, are you any better?
While you are rejoicing at the number of Pascha services you have attended take a minute and think about whether or not you are better than the Pharisee who thanked God for being so good. Think: do you never put others down in order to exalt your own ego? Do you sin even though you know that He, the Messiah, your God, is right there in front of you? Even though you know His Divine Word tells you it is not right? My friend, we are not so far off from this evil group. We, too, are wicked. We, like they were, are Gods chosen, but we reject Him when we sin: we love ourselves more than Him, that is exactly what sin is.
Perhaps, then, the Jews are not the people you would identify with. Tell me, would you join the Gentiles? Again, surely you would say that you would not want to be one of them. Were these not people who did not know Him at all? Would you choose to be far from Him at that time? Think again. Was it not the Gentile soldiers who scourged our beloved Saviour thirty-nine times? Was it not the Gentiles who beat our Saviour on the head? Who spat on Him? Who drove the nails into His Life-Giving body and the spear into His side? In ignorance they did this, perhaps? Perhaps. It is true that they did not have Scripture before them. Were they, however, oblivious to the loud protestations of the natural world? Were clouds darkening and earthquakes not enough for them to think? Is it human to delight in flogging another person almost to death? Do they not even know the natural law of love? Let us grant them a positive answer to all of these would you , choose to be a Gentile? Would you choose, intentionally not to know God?
Ah, it appears that we are no better than the Gentiles. When we sin it is as if we do not know Him. Why else would we sin? Who can know God and not love Him more than oneself? Who can know God and intentionally hurt Him in such a fashion? We are like the Gentiles, too, because every time we sin we are driving with them the nails into Him. Every time we sin we add another thorn onto His head. Every time we sin we are holding the scourge and whipping Him. Every time we take pleasure in sin, we are taking pleasure in afflicting more pain on our Saviour. We are no better than the Gentiles.
Perhaps we can be a little more presumptuous. Let us consider ourselves worthy to be Apostles. Would you like to be one of them this week? Many of us would have loved to have spent those three and a half years of ministry with the Lord – to walk with Him, talk with Him eat and drink with Him. Let us get to know Him as they did. Indeed, what an honour. Maybe, though, we then say that we would not choose to be them! These people, His friends, were the first to leave Him. The people that knew Him best, these were the ones who fled. These are the ones who denied Him three times. These are the ones who decided not to show their faces in public because of their fear. These are the ones that supposedly knew Him.
Are we still feeling presumptuous? Alas, are we not Christians? Do we not know Him as well? Were we not born in Him and baptised? Were we not given the advantage that these Holy Men did not have at that point, which is the Holy Spirit? Who are we kidding? We have an upper hand on the Apostles and we cannot even control our thoughts let alone our will. If any one of us has sinned, we have abandoned Him even as they did. If any one of us has chosen to do evil, completely knowingly, we have no right to criticise the Apostles.
My friends, it appears that we are no better than any of them. We have a little of the evil of all of them. Let us turn our focus away from what they did to our Lord, as evil as it was, and focus on the evil that we have done to our Lord. Let us remember that for this evil our Lord endured all that He did this week, particularly in these next two days. Yet, He loved us in our sins and extends His love to us sinners now. We, the undeserving of His love, are still loved in all our filth. Let us choose to be like Mary Magdalene, who repented and clung to Him throughout even the hardest of times. Let us have our eyes ever fixed on Him, and let us not despair as Judas did. Let us look up at Him on that Holy Wood, and cry out for mercy.
Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.