Good Friday: The Greatest of All Sorrows by Bishop Ehrler, 1891
"O all ye that pass by the way, attend, and see if there be any sorrow like to my sorrow." (Lament, i : 12.)
I present to your pitying contemplation, this morning, my dear brethren, the mightiest, the most profound sorrow that earth has ever witnessed. It is not merely a single affliction, (such as is often endured by the human heart), but the sum of all suffering and woe, that fullness of all sorrow, united and enclosed in a single heart, and that heart, the sacred heart of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ! The King of martyrs, our divine Redeemer, appears, today, before our minds in bloody garments, saying to us: "Oh all ye that pass by the way, attend, and see if there be any sorrow like to my sorrow." Who will refuse to compassionate Him, overwhelmed with the bitterest anguish for our salvation? Who can live through this day, of all others in the year, without being penetrated by the most profound and sincere compassion for the mangled and martyred Lamb of God?
Behold, how our holy Church, the Bride of the King of martyrs, laments for her beloved! She can not find words to express her deep, sharp pain. Clad in the garments of mourning, with anguish in her countenance, and tears in her eyes, she sits before the Cross of her Bridegroom, and tenderly bewails His sufferings and death. To each of her children she cries out, today; "Let tears, like a torrent, run down day and night; give thyself no rest, and let not the apple of thy eye cease. Arise, give praise in the night, in the beginning of the watches; pour out thy heart like water before the face of the Lord." (Lament. 2: 18, 19.)
The bitter Passion of Jesus should always and continually engage the contemplation of our souls. Day and night, like the blessed in heaven, should we adore the wounds of our Redeemer; ever and always, should we weep with all holy souls over those sufferings which were borne for love of us. But today, my brethren, when all these agonies pass swiftly before our eyes, when the blood flows afresh, and the death-sweat oozes from his body, must not the stream of our tears, like a torrent, run down day and night? Ah! yes: the Passion and Death of our dear Redeemer reveal to us this Goos Friday morning the greatest and deepest of all sorrows.
I. Because of the extreme torments suffered;
II. Because of the person who endured those torments; and
III. Because of the cruel cause of those torments.
I. Who can fathom the depths and the bitterness of the deep sea of human anguish? Who can count the tears that have been shed since the unhappy fall of Adam? Who can reckon the cries of woe and misery, of agony and despair, that have issued from the mouth of one single suffering man? Yet there has been no earthly sorrow which can even be compared with that of our Saviour. If ail the pains and miseries of the whole earth were collected together and united in one great mass of anguish, the sufferings of our Redeemer would far outweigh them all. So immense, so profound, so overwhelming were they, that only the mighty heart of the God-Man could endure them.
1. The prophet Isaias beheld in a vision the future sufferings of the Messias, and saw the holy Victim covered with blood and wounds; but when he attempted to paint the picture of the King of Martyrs, O then, my brethren, he was bewildered by the terrible, the awe-inspiring apparition. "Who hath believed our report? And to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? He shall grow up as a tender plant before him, and as a root out of a thirsty ground; there is no beauty in him, nor comeliness; and we have seen him, and there was no sightliness that we should be desirous of him; despised, and the most abject of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with infirmity." (Is. 53: 1-3).
"A worm, and no man; the reproach of men, and the outcast of the people,"
(Ps. 21 : 7.), our Lord Jesus Christ has suffered all the pains which the soul can suffer. He has borne the excess of mental sufferings, such as anguish and fear, sorrow and desolation, dejection and dereliction--all that can inflict torture upon the heart of man. He cries out: "My soul is sorrowful even unto death" (Matt. 14: 34.); and then He sinks to the earth overcome by so fierce an agony that it forces a bloody sweat to issue from every pore of His sacred body. Each separate torment which He afterward endured in all the members of His body, He consented to suffer beforehand in His heart and soul. "Where is there a grief like unto my grief?"
2. Yes, my brethren, He suffered in every member of His sacred body. "From the sole of the foot to the top of the head, there is no soundness therein; wounds and bruises and swelling sores: they are not bound up, nor dressed, nor fomented with oil." (Is. 1 : 6.) His head is crowned with piercing thorns; His eyes are filled with blood that streams from His wounded brow; His cheeks are bruised by the blows of a wicked servant; His hands and feet are pierced through with cruel nails; His heart is opened with a spear; His shoulders are torn with terrible lashes, and all His wounds are inflamed and widened by the repeated taking-off and putting-on of his sacred garments. "Where is there any sorrow like to my sorrow?"
He endured every kind of affliction--His bitter chalice contained every form and species of woe. As a babe, He was repulsed by His own creatures, and forced to accept as a birth-place, a cold and miserable stable. As a helpless and harmless child, He was threatened with death, and obliged to flee from His own country into a distant and barbarous land. When grown to manhood, His chosen people, to whom He had shown naught but kindness, whom He had loaded with favors and benefits, despised and persecuted Him. They said: "He hath a devil," and they sought to take His life. They tried to rob Him of His honor and reputation. He was betrayed by one of His own disciples, and sold by him for a contemptible sum of money, and this under the mask of friendship. He was deserted by His cherished disciples, who had sworn to follow Him unto death. He was bound with cords, and led forth like a criminal amid the wild clamor of His enemies. He was falsely accused, and dragged about from one tribunal to another. He was mocked and despised; a murderer and robber was preferred before Him. He was deprived of His clothing before the eyes of the whole people, and thus, stripped naked, was nailed to the cross: and even on the cross He was scoffed at and denied unto the end. Indifference and cowardice, human respect and treachery, hypocrisy, derision, malice, in fact, every kind of evil, had a share in His torments. "Where is there any sorrow like to my sorrow?"
He suffered from every class of men, priests and laymen, princes upon their thrones, and the scum of the people; strangers who knew Him not, and those of His own race; pagans who persecuted Him through ignorance, and Jews who had been instructed in the Law; soldiers hardened by cruel warfare, and judges who were appointed to protect the innocent; the ignorant who were the blind tools of the malignant Pharisees, and the learned who were filled with evil wisdom--all conditions of human society, all degrees of rank, became His enemies. He had not one executioner alone (as has the greatest criminal), but hundreds and thousands of them. "Where is any sorrow like unto my sorrow?''
He suffered throughout His whole earthly career, since no moment of it was free from pain and affliction. All the days of His life, the awful vision of His future sufferings stood out clearly before His omniscient eye, filling His soul with unspeakable woe and dread. Death itself did not put an end to the outrages heaped upon Him; for when He hung lifeless upon the cross, His enemies continued to wreak then vengeance upon His sacred remains. They pierced His side with a lance; they sealed up His grave and placed a watch upon it so that "that deceiver," as they called Him, might not come forth from the tomb. Jesus, as St. John remarks, knew " all things that were to come upon him." (John 18:4.) "My sorrow is continually before me," the Psalmist says in His person.
(Ps. 37 : 18.) "My enemies have trodden on me all the day long; for there are many that make war against me." (Ps. 55 : 3.)
3. Where is there sorrow equal to His sorrow? He suffered all these pains and sorrows from those who had been His friends, and for whose salvation He had descended from heaven to earth. His people, chosen before all the nations of the earth, whom He had led out of Egypt, fed with manna in the desert, opened the fountain of living water in the hard rock; whose enemies He had subdued, through whose cities, towns, and villages He went about blessing and doing good--this, His chosen people, prepared all these afflictions and humiliations for Him, their Messias. "The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib; but Israel hath not known me." (Is. 1 :3.) "I have brought up children, and exalted them, but they have despised me." (Is. 1 :2.) Hearing these lamentations of our outraged God, must we not again exclaim: What sorrow is like unto His sorrow!
4. He endured all these sufferings without the least alleviation. No earthly consolation was offered Him, for His disciples had all fled; no heavenly comfort was sent to lighten His pain. He offered Himself willingly to suffer, and He wished to drink the bitter chalice even to the dregs. For this reason, He refrained Himself as far as possible from the succors of His Divinity, so that He might be, as it were, abyssed in the very depths of sorrow. "I have trodden the wine-press alone, and of the Gentiles there was not a man with me." (Is. 63 : 3.) "I looked for one that would grieve together with me, but there was none; and for one that would comfort me, and I found none. And they gave me gall for my food; and in my thirst, they gave me vinegar to drink." (Ps. 68 : 21, 22.)
In heart-felt sympathy, my brethren, let us, today, contemplate this deep ocean of suffering, for to nothing else can the great and bitter sorrows of our Redeemer be compared. "Let tears like a torrent run down day and night: give thyself no rest, and let not the apple of thy eye cease." The earth, the elements, and all inanimate nature once trembled on this day with grief and compassion for the mangled Lamb of God, and shall we, for whose salvation He was slain, alone remain indifferent? Let us fall upon our knees before our crucified Jesus,--let us venerate His sorrows, and detest with bitter tears the sins which caused His unspeakable sufferings.
II. Consider next, my beloved Christians, the dignity of the Person who endured those sufferings.
1. Who is this Man of Sorrows who appears before us, with torn and bleeding body and pierced heart?" Who is He that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bosra?" we ask in astonishment with the prophet Isaias. (Is. 63 :1.) "Why then is thy apparel red, and thy garments like theirs that tread the wine-press?" (Is. 63 : 2.) No human heart is strong or heroic enough to carry such a burden of sorrow, without being crushed, broken, annihilated! Ah, my beloved, the Man of Sorrows is the only-begotten Son of God--the strong and mighty Deity, who, for love of us, has borne all these torments; who in order to make satisfaction for our sins, took their crushing weight upon Himself and suffered in our stead. He, the Man of Sorrows, saw the want and misery of the earth, He saw the corruption of sin which had opened the abyss of hell, and closed the gates of heaven. From the throne of His heavenly glory, He looked down with grief upon the earth, and saw that only His own almighty hand could rescue it from its extreme and hopeless wretchedness. The prayers and sacrifices of centuries had been inadequate to appease the divine wrath. Neither Angel nor Archangel could make the requisite satisfaction to the offended majesty of God, or deliver the world from its impending ruin. Penetrated with an incomprehensible love, the Divine Word cries out to His heavenly Father: "Sacrifice and oblation thou wouldst not; but a body thou hast fitted to me . . . then said I, behold I come . . . that I should do thy will, O Lord!" (Heb. 10: 5-7.) "The Father did not lay the cross upon His Son without His consent," says St. Cyril, "but the Son has given Himself for us on the cross, and the Father has agreed to it, so that the mystery of salvation might be accomplished." (St. Cyril.)
2. The Man of Sorrows bore within Him a divine heart, and He suffered with the strength and supernatural power of a divine being. It is true that while He suffered intensely in His human nature, the divine nature was incapable of suffering, yet the divine, being united with the human nature, could not but sympathize with the sufferings of the latter. Indeed, Christ as God wished to sympathize with and share the sufferings of His humanity, so that, thereby, a sacrifice of infinite value might be offered to His Heavenly Father, as an infinite atonement for our sins. Where is there a sorrow like unto this sorrow?
Go through all the ranks of human beings, my dear Christians, and contemplate the misery which meets you on every side. Ponder well the greatest sorrow that has ever been the portion of any earthly creature, and you will acknowledge, after all, that it is only the suffering of a human heart. For all its depth and intensity it is only the trembling outcry and complaint of a finite human soul. But the sorrow which Jesus Christ endured, contains within its unfathomable depths--the unsearchable emotions of an incarnate God! Again: were it possible for the Angels of heaven to experience pain; nay, more, if they accepted it with the whole power of their angelic nature, the united sufferings of all that multitude of mighty spirits compared with those of our Redeemer, would be only as a soft sigh which trembles for a moment on the summer air. Where is sorrow like unto his sorrow?
3. Behold, again, this Man of Sorrows, and meditate upon the lessons of His wounds. Consider not merely that grand, divine Heart which bears human suffering with superhuman strength, but, if you would still further sound the depths of Christ's excessive sorrow, contemplate, also, that sacred body which is led like a lamb to the slaughter. Not a human body formed from base and sinful dust of the earth is the body of Jesus Christ, but a miracle of the omnipotence and wisdom of God. It is a wonderful creation formed by the Holy Ghost in the immaculate womb of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary. Not merely royal blood flows through His veins, the tender plant from the root of Jesse, but this body is created by the divine operation of God Himself. As all the works of God are more perfect, the clearer and the more forcibly they show forth His power; as the manna which the Lord sent from heaven was sweeter and more exquisite than any earthly food; as the wine which our Saviour created at the marriage of Cana was finer than any juice of the vine; as Adam, the first man, had a most beautiful and perfect human body, because God Himself had formed it from the slime of the earth--so the body of Jesus Christ was more wondrously beautiful and perfect than that of any other human being. It was fine and delicate and perfect beyond all creatures, and formed with special capabilities for suffering. He was appointed to be the Lamb of God, to bear, and to take away, the sins of the world. According to the will of God, as well as through the nature of His holy body, the humanity of our Redeemer must have felt all His pains and sorrows much more keenly and intensely than could any other human body. The greatest and sharpest agony struggled and raged in the most sensitive and delicate of vessels; but through the will of God and the love of our Saviour, the vessel, not being able to break, endured and felt that extraordinary anguish to the bitter end. The fiercest fire, finding the most inflammable material, continues, without consuming or annihilating it, to feed upon it with ever increasing violence, as long as divine Justice requires the holocaust! Where is there a sorrow like unto this sorrow?
4. "Go forth, ye daughters of Sion; and see King Solomon in the diadem wherewith his mother crowned him in the day of his espousals." (Cant. 3:11.) Behold your Bridegroom, who has delivered you through such exceeding sorrow, and has espoused Himself to your soul at such a great price! Not only will we fall down in adoration and extol the sufferings of our Redeemer, but lovingly we will raise up our eyes to the King and Bridegroom of our souls, and gratefully consecrate the love of our hearts to Him, the Incarnate God, who has given the whole of His divine and human nature to suffer for our redemption!
III. Come now, my dearly beloved, and descending once more into the deep abyss of our Saviour's Passion, let us search with sincere earnestness for the cause of these terrible sufferings, this ineffable sorrow.
1. On account of our sins, my brethren, the Son of God came down from the glory of heaven. A great invalid lay suffering upon the earth, and a great Physician must needs appear to save and heal him. Love moved the good Samaritan Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world, to take pity on sick humanity, and to offer to His heavenly Father the atonement for our sins. But was it necessary that our Saviour should suffer so much and so deeply? Would not a single sigh from his divine Heart have sufficed to appease the wrath of the Eternal Father? Certainly; one single drop of His precious blood was sufficient to cleanse the whole world from sin. A single work of our divine Saviour is everlasting and infinite in its redeeming power. Then, wherefore, has He borne the supreme measure of sorrow? Why did He wish to drain the bitter chalice to the dregs? It was to expiate our sins in general, as well as in particular. Every sin that has been or will be committed upon the earth He, in His character of Mediator, has atoned for. "Behold the man," cried out Pilate, as he presented the scourged and bleeding Redeemer to the gaze of the Jewish people. "O, Pilate!" we must exclaim, "thou hast announced a deep truth!" Before us stands the Man who has taken upon Himself all the sins of the human race, and who bears them and atones for them in His own body. Before us stands the Man in whom we can see our sins and their punishment. "Surely He hath borne our infirmities, and carried our sorrows; and we have thought Him as it were a leper, and as one struck by God and afflicted. But He was wounded for our iniquities, He was bruised for our sins; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and by His bruises we are healed." (Is. 53 : 4, 5.)
2. Contemplate, today, the sufferings of our Saviour, my beloved brethren, and see if there is one sin which He has not taken upon himself and expiated. Consider first, our individual sins, and in them you will recognize all the sins of the world. Faithless and ungrateful, humanity has turned away from the the good God, and bartered His friendship and love for the miserable wages of sin. The disciples, fleeing, abandon their divine master; Judas betrays Him for thirty pieces of silver; His enemies take Him prisoner, and bind Him like a criminal; they drag Him from one tribunal to another. Behold the man who continues in his vices, who is not satisfied with one sin or one insult to the Lord! They weave a crown of thorns and press it upon His head; they place a reed in His hand, and clothe Him in a garment of mockery. Behold the man who raises his head proudly and haughtily, who would elevate his throne as high as the stars in heaven! They scourge Him with cruel lashes, until His sacred body, which is exposed naked to the gaze of the rabble, is covered with blood. Behold the man who shamelessly wallows in the lusts of the flesh, rejoicing in them, and defiling his body with the filth of iniquity. Pilate releases a murderer, and condemns innocence to death. Behold the man who, full of envy, and jealousy, grudges his neighbor his position, or his fortune. They pierce His hands and feet with cruel nails. Behold the man who misuses his members for sin, whose feet hasten upon the road to ruin, and whose hands are greedily stretched forth towards injustice. They give Him gall and vinegar to drink. Behold the man who indulges in gluttony, and gratifies all his sensual appetites! They mock Him in His sufferings, and cry out to Him: "If thou art the Son of God, come down from the cross!" Behold the man who, in his anger, knows no limit to his hatred and revenge! In death, they pierced His Sacred Heart; and at the same time they pierced the soul of the man who had given away his heart to strange gods. Behold the man of sin! Behold the man of punishment!" It is not the Redeemer and the Saviour," each one of us might exclaim,
"that hangs before me upon the cross, it is I myself whose sins he has borne and atoned for, it is the man of sin that is crucified in Him!"
"What was the cause of Thy suffering, O Son of God?" exclaims St. Anselm. "I was the scourge of Thy pain; I the cause of Thy death; I the sting of Thy torments; I the ground of Thy condemnation. O marvelous verdict, O mysterious dispensation! The wicked sin, and the just is punished; the guilty commit the offense, and the innocent atones for it; the master pays for what the servant has broken; God becomes surety for the debts of man."
3. Wherein lies the cause of all these incomprehensible sufferings of our Saviour? He did not wish merely to bear all the sins of the world in His afflicted person, but, also, to make an everlasting and superabundant satisfaction for us, in order to lay up for us an everlasting and superabundant merit. "Christ has paid much more than we owed," says St. Chrysostom; "as much as the ocean exceeds a drop of water, so much do Christ's merits exceed our guilt." (Hom. 20 in Epist. ad. Rom.) This superabounding merit of Christ does not merely blot out all the stains of sin and its punishment in us, but it, also, wins for us in the richest measure all the graces necessary to our souls for the gaining of everlasting life. As the good Samaritan did not merely raise up the wounded man from the wayside, and wash his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, but, also, out of love, placed him upon his horse, and brought him to an inn, and left money for his further care, so our Redeemer, the genuine Good Samaritan, does not simply heal the wounds of Our hearts through His atonement; but, also, gives us, through His holy Passion, all graces in the highest degree. He would reveal to the world His everlasting love and its great power; therefore has He suffered so much for us. As the loving pelican opens its breast and gives its own life-blood to feed its famishing brood, so does Jesus, our Pious Pelican, nourish and strengthen our souls with His own sacred Blood, the last drop of which He shed for us.
Today, then, my beloved brethren, let us descend into the holy mystery of the Passion of our Lord. And when we have gone down into the deep well whence such streams of suffering and sorrow burst forth, each one of us may strike his breast remorsefully, and cry out to himself in bitter sorrow: "Thou art the cause of all these innumerable sufferings of Thy Redeemer!" Our sins have prepared these pains for our loving Saviour. Therefore "let tears, like a torrent, run down day and night: give thyself no rest, and let not the apple of thine eye cease." Today, at least, dear Christians, let us pour out our hearts like water before the face of the Lord. When King David learned and recognized of old the justice of God in his family, and when the punishing hand of the Lord was revealed to him, then that royal penitent "kept a fast, and going in by himself, lay upon the ground. And the ancients of his house came to make him rise from the ground, but he would not: neither did he eat meat with them." (2 Kings 12: 16, 17.) So let us spend in the holy practice of prayer and penance this solemn day, in which the Justice and the Mercy of God have been so clearly revealed to us: and let us promise the Lord, my dear brethren, at the foot of His cross that, henceforth, we will never again renew His endless sufferings, and unspeakable sorrows, by any future relapses into sin. Amen.