At the end of Mass on Sunday morning we sang,
What language shall I borrow to thank thee, dearest friend?
for this thy dying sorrow, thy pity without end?
These words come to me easily again today - “what language shall I borrow?” because the magnitude of this event feels truly beyond the scope of anything we can say of it.
But here we are, at the very heart, the pivotal moment of the mighty acts which we contemplate this week… And we must say something.
How much easier it would be for our hearts to pass by it lightly… and just to point directly to Sunday. But something important has happened here - in this moment. And we must stop here, at the foot of the cross - and take it in, and embrace it.
It feels difficult to grasp intellectually…
Last night Jesus asked the disciples, “do you know what I have done to you?”
And tonight, we may find ourselves at a loss to articulate what He has done for us.
But we feel it. Somewhere in our guts, in our bones, in our hearts… And there is power in that. In the experience alone - that incomprehensible jumble of grief and awe and gratitude - just to experience all that carries real power for us… power to bind us ever more deeply to Him, to this man - Rabbi, teacher, master... Friend.
“What language shall I borrow to thank thee, dearest friend?”
In a part of His farewell discourse in the gospel of John - between last night’s gospel and tonight’s - Jesus repeats his new commandment - to “love one another as I have loved you.” And he continues - “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” And he says, “I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.” (John 15:12, 13, 15b)
He has shared everything with them - teaching and wisdom certainly… his ministry… even the power to heal, he did not hold back - with no concern for status or position… teacher and pupil, master and servant… divinity and humanity even…
And He calls us friends.
He identifies himself, not as remote, or elevated, or inaccessible in any degree… but as an intimate, a companion…
For this reason, if no other, we must stop here and take this in, experience it, feel it - as we would for our dearest Friend.
Mother Sara invited us a few weeks ago to consider the meaning of this sign…the Cross. We make the sign of the cross, many (perhaps most) of us, multiple times a day. In doing so we claim this sign. We identify with this sign. We take it onto ourselves, onto our own bodies; we mark ourselves with it, we bind it (and Him) to our flesh, to our DNA.
Perhaps you have been thinking about this as I have. And you will have experienced how the sign of the Cross carries many layers of meaning for us - enriched by two thousand years of this friendship.
Suffering and glory… Imperial power and humble service… birth, death, baptism, blessing… transformation and the promise of Life...
But among all the layers, He has told us what the bottom line is -
“No one has greater love than this - to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Julian of Norwich, in May 1373, fell ill - she seemed to be near death. And the priest came to her - and as he held the cross for her to look on… her visions began. In those visions she witnessed the suffering of Jesus on the cross.
And she did not die. But she reflected on her experience for some years, seeking to understand the meaning of what she had seen. And after fifteen years or more she wrote - “I was answered in spiritual understanding… ‘Wouldst thou know thy Lord’s meaning in this thing?
Be well aware: love was His meaning.”
“Love was his meaning.”
“No one has greater love than this,” Jesus says - “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” And he goes out, and lays down his life.
This is the common thread to all those layers of meaning we find in the sign of the Cross.
St. Paul writes “that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus [are] baptized into his death.”
So we are baptized into this. Into Love that will lay down its life for its friends.
So now it is ours to do - it is ours, as the Body of Christ, to be Friend to those whom He calls Friends.
To hold nothing back - of wisdom, power, healing, teaching… companionship…
To disregard status or position…
To seek and serve Christ in all persons...
Thomas Merton in his essay “The Power and Meaning of Love” wrote -
...our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love; and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbor worthy if anything can. …. There is no way under the sun to make a [person] worthy of love except by loving [them].”
[think… the effect on us of Jesus’ love for us…]
Tonight we stop here at the foot of the Cross, to take it in, to embrace it - to fully experience and contemplate the impact and the power of this “mighty act” - of One Who loved us so well.
As Friends to our sisters and brothers in Christ’s Body, in the whole human family… we must again stop and witness - take it in and embrace it...
We must be witnesses to the suffering of Christ’s Friends, to witness their own crosses… the crosses that spring up daily around the world...
in schools… courtrooms… execution chambers… halls of power… cities under siege… the countless places and ways in which Imperial power continues to oppress and wound the Body of Christ...
And then we must love them - laying down our lives for them - holding back nothing of what we have to offer - being Christ for those who are Christ to us…
To love each other, as he has loved us.
To call them friends, as he has called us friends.
What language shall I borrow to thank thee dearest friend?