The green tree was Christ himself; the dry tree the world. He was the green tree of life transplanted from Eden; the dry tree was Jerusalem ﬁrst, and then the unconverted world. If the Romans so treated him who was innocent, how would they treat the Truth that is in his Church; in an uneasy conscience perhaps he beckoned you to his confessional; in a passing prayer he called you to greater prayerfulness….You accepted the truth, you confessed your sins, you perfected your spiritual life, and lo! in those moments when you thought you were losing everything, you found everything; when you thought you were going into your grave, you were walking in the newness of life….The antiphon of the Empty Tomb was striking on the chords of your heart. It was not you who died; it was sin. It was not Christ who died it was death.
Fulton J. Sheen The Eternal Galilean
So much of the action of this week has taken place so that Scripture may be fulﬁlled. What God told the people of Israel through his prophets comes about in His Son’s death. It shows us in the clearest possible way that what we see in the prophetic descriptions is true.
If the truth be told, the suffering, the rejection, torture, and death of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, is beyond our understanding. We stand silent before the Cross, unable to take the cruelty, the horror and the profound beauty of it. It is a mystery, the mystery of God’s love: an act of loving service, the power of silent love overcoming a world of political scheming, deception, self-interest and sin. The chief priests and elders can only think of a threat to earthly power; they fail to see that here, now, is the salvation for which they long. That God’s own son should come from heaven and die to save a sinner like you or me is extraordinary. We are shown today in the clearest possible terms how much God loves us: that there is no length to which he will not go to save us, to embrace us his prodigal children. The chief priests and elders think that they’re ridding themselves of an heretic, a potential troublemaker, a fool who claims to be the son of God and King of Israel. When Pilate asks “Quid est Veritas – What is Truth?” he does not wait for an answer, or understand that the source of all truth, the word of God incarnate, is stood in front of him: ‘est vir qui adest – it is the man who is present, who is standing in front of him’. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life of the whole world.
After scourging him the soldiers put a purple robe around our Lord, they crown him with thorns, and give him a reed for a sceptre. They think they’re being clever and funny: they’re having a laugh, mocking a man about to be executed, but this is God showing the world what true kingship is: it is not pomp, or power, the ability to have one’s own way, but the Silent Way of suffering love. It shows us what God’s glory is really like: it turns our human values on their head and inaugurates a new age, according to new values, and restores a relationship broken by human sin.
In being raised upon the Cross, our Lord is not dying the death of a common criminal, but rather reigning in glory – the glory of God’s free love given to restore humanity, to have new life in him. His hands and feet and side are pierced, as wounds of love, to pour out God’s healing life upon the world. In his obedience to the Father’s will, he puts to an end the disobedience of humanity’s ﬁrst parent. Here mankind who fell because of a tree are raised to new life in Christ through his hanging on the tree. Christ is a willing victim, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, the Silent lamb led to his slaughter, the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep that have gone astray. At the time when the Passover lambs are slaughtered in the temple, upon the Altar of the Cross, Christ as both priest and victim offers himself as the true lamb to take away the sins of the whole world, offers his death so that we may have life, new life in Him.
Death and hell, the reward of sin, have no power over us: for in dying, and being laid in a stranger’s tomb, Christ will go down to Hell, to break down its doors, to lead souls to heaven, to alter the nature of the afterlife, once and for all. Just when the devil thinks he’s won, then in his weakness and in his silence Christ overcomes the world, the ﬂesh, and the devil. The burden of sin which separates humanity from God is carried on the wood of the Cross.
On the way to Calvary our Lord falls three times such is the way, such was the burden, so we too as Christians, despite being reconciled to God by the Cross, will fall on our road too. We will continue to sin, but also we will continue to ask God for his love and mercy. But those arms which were opened on the cross will always continue to embrace the world with God’s love.
We don’t deserve it, that’s the point, but it is there to help us become the people God wants us to be: to be strengthened, fed, healed, and restored by him: to die to sin and be raised to new life, and to share that life and love with others, that the world might believe and be saved through him. Christ pays the debt which we cannot to reconcile humanity to his loving and merciful Father. He shows us the meaning of true love: that we might live it out in our lives, forgiving one another, bearing our own cross, and living lives of love for love of him who died for love of us.
We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, for he is our salvation, our life, and our resurrection, through him we are saved and made free.