On Holy Thursday evening we commemorate the saving Passion of our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ: the spiting, the scourging, the slapping in the face, the scorn, the mocking, the purple robe, the reed, the sponge, the vinegar, the nails, the spear, and above all the Cross and Death which he willingly suffered. Tonight are read all of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ betrayal, trial, humiliation and Death on the Cross. These are divided into twelve readings which are interspersed with hymns contemplating and interpreting these terrible events.
At the beginning the hymns continue the themes of Judas’s betrayal, and the other Disciples’ inability to stay awake and pray even while Judas remained vigilant in his scheming, along with reflections on the unjust trial. But the central hymn brings us to the Christ’s saving Death itself.
Today he who hung the earth above the waters is hung upon a tree. A crown of thorns crowns him who is King of the Angels. He who wrapped the heavens in clouds is wrapped in the purple of mockery. He who freed Adam in the Jordan is slapped in the face. He was transfixed with nails who is the Bridegroom of the Church. He was pierced with a lance who is the Son of the Virgin. We worship your passion O Christ. Show us also your glorious Resurrection.
Probably some of the most heart-wrenching hymns of this service are set in the mouth of Mary, Jesus’ Holy Mother, as she is a witness to the suffering of her Son.
The Virgin Mother, seeing her own Lamb led to the slaughter, followed wailing with the other women and cried: “Where are you going my Child? Why do you travel along so fast? Would there perhaps be another wedding in Cana and you hurry there to turn water into wine? Can I not come with you my Child? Or stay with you? Say a word to me, you who are the Word. Pass me not by in silence, you who kept me pure. For you are my Son and my God.”
Seeing you hanging on the Cross O Christ, the God and Creator of all, whom as a Virgin she bore, she cried out bitterly: “O my Son, where has the beauty of your form vanished? I cannot bear to see you unjustly crucified; hasten therefore to rise up, that I too may behold your Resurrection from the dead on the third day.
Toward the end of the service, the theme of a few hymns shifts somewhat to reflect on the cosmic dimensions of Christ’s Death on the Cross.
O Lord, when you were lifted up on the Cross, fear and trembling fell over creation. You did not permit the earth to engulf those who crucified you, but you ordered Hades to send up its captives for the rebirth of mortals. O Judge of the living and the dead, you came to grant life and not death. Most merciful Lord, glory to you.
The voluntary humiliation of God the Creator in the flesh as a man reveals to us who God is. It is hard for us to believe. Like Mary, we cannot believe what we clearly see: the One who judges all mankind, submits to an unjust judgment; he who raises the dead, submits himself to death. It is out of his great love for mankind in order to redeem his creation which had fallen.