Lights are low as we gather. Tonight we read twelve passages from the gospels that treat of the voluntary death of the Saviour. We begin with John’s account of the final moments Jesus shared with His disciples. Pouring himself into them one last time. Preparing them for what was coming. The tender prayer. For them. For us.
We read of the betrayal. The arrest. The sham trial. The denial. Of Pilate’s cowardice as he washes his hands, magically absolving him of all responsibility. But the people own their choice. “His blood be on us and on our children!” Until this moment, I have never considered the irony in their words. They mean, of course, that they are not afraid of the consequences of their actions. They cannot know yet that this man’s blood will be life to them, and their children, should they choose to accept it.
After the reading of the fifth gospel, the lights are extinguished altogether, all but the candles flickering before the icons. An ominous portent. The priest comes from behind the iconastasis dragging the cross. In one motion, we all sink to the ground. Faces to the floor. And from beneath his dark burden, he sings…
Today He is suspended on a Tree who suspended the earth over the waters.
A crown of thorns was placed on the King of Angels.
He who wore a false purple robe, covered the heavens with clouds.
He was smitten who, in the Jordan, delivered Adam.
The Groom of the Church was fastened with nails, and the Son of the Virgin was pierced with a spear.
Thy sufferings we adore, O Christ.
Makes us to behold Thy glorious Resurrection.
In the dark stillness of this moment, I hear it. The pounding of the hammer. I feel each blow like a kick to the stomach. His blood be on me. I did this.
We read of the agonizing hours on the cross. The mocking. The ultimatums. The vinegar. The aloneness. The mother. The darkness. The veil. “It…is…finished.” The spear. Blood and Water. For the saving of the nations. His blood be on us.
*In Orthodox worship we “anticipate the day”. Therefore, last night’s service commemorated the Passion of Christ. This afternoon His body will be removed from the cross and laid upon a funeral bier covered in flowers. Tonight we gather to sing lamentations for the Beloved. It is important to linger here. To allow ourselves to sink into the grief of this moment. Only those who have tasted death fully appreciate the power of Resurrection.