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From the Sepulchre to the Throne
Religious of St. Andrew’s Convent Streatham, S.W.
New York, Cincinnati, Chicago
who is the Faithful Witness,
The First-begotten of the dead
Prince of the Kings of the earth,
to Him be
Glory and Empire, for ever and ever
J. N. Strassmaier, S.J.,
Edm. Can. Surmont.,
die 26 Februarii 1914.
Hope. Inspiration. Trust.
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All Rights Reserved, Including The Right To Reproduce This Book Or Portions Thereof In Any Form Whatever.
I. “That was a Great Sabbath-Day”1
II. The Great Sabbath in the Palaces of Sion
III. The Great Sabbath in the Temple
IV. Prodigies Connected with the Resurrection of Jesus
V. “Sitting over against the Sepulchre”
VI. The Resurrection of Jesus
VII. Jesus Appears to his Blessed Mother
VIII. The Angels Appear to the Holy Women
IX. St. Peter & St. John Visit the Tomb
X. Jesus Appears to St. Mary Magdalene
XI. Jesus Appears to the Holy Women
XII. The Apparition to St. Peter
XIII. The Disciples of Emmaus (I)
XIV. The Disciples of Emmaus (Ii)
XV. The Apparition to the Disciples on Easter Evening
XVI. The Institution of the Sacrament of Penance
XVII. The Apparition of the Risen Saviour to St. Thomas
XVIII. Jesus Appears to the Seven Disciples at the Sea of Tiberias
XIX. The Miraculous Draught of Fishes
XX. The Primacy Conferred upon St. Peter
XXI. Jesus Predicts St. Peter’s Martyrdom
XXII. Christ’s Commission to His Apostles (I)
XXIII. Christ’s Commission to His Apostles (II)
XXIV. Jesus Leads His Disciples out to Mount Olivet
XXV. The Ascension of Our Lord
XXVI. The Apparition of Two Angels to the Disciples
XXVII. The Ministering Women (I)
XXVIII. The Ministering Women (II)
XXIX. “Persevering in Prayer with Mary, the Mother of Jesus”
XXX. The Day of Atonement in the Temple1
XXXI. “A High Priest over the House of God”
XXXII. “Christ is the Head of the Church”
XXXIII. “He Sitteth at the Right Hand of God”
About CrossReach Publications
Bestselling Titles from CrossReach
This volume has for object to provide a book of spiritual readings or a series of meditations for Eastertide.
The “Summaries for Meditation”—drawn up according to the Ignatian method—may be useful to those who desire to use this book for their daily meditations. The “Preludes” and “Colloquies” are merely suggestive, but they may be useful, when the mind has to be forced into a given groove.
None can come between the creature and its Creator in the matter of prayer, since God asks for the spontaneous outpouring of the soul. But when the Christian walks in terra deserta et in via inaquosa, or is a novice in the science of the Saints—in meditation—a few suggestions which furnish subjects for petitions may be welcome. Such aids to devotion must be taken or left at each person’s discretion.
The Author has endeavoured to bring these sacred subjects before her readers as practically and realistically as possible—to let them see these events as they probably occurred—and at the same time, to refrain from freely indulging in pure conjectures. To this end, the “side lights” of topography and Jewish customs have been thrown on the Gospel narratives as far as possible. Minute exegetical notes and controversial subjects have been excluded, as out of place in a purely devotional work.
In some chapters, the Author has drawn a few paragraphs from her “Catholic Scripture Manuals,” since the same facts had to be recorded.
This volume takes up the thread of the Author’s previous work, Looking on Jesus, the Lamb of God, which treats of the last six months of our Blessed Lord’s Life. This present work deals only with His Risen Life upon earth—with the events of “the Great Forty Days”; all considerations touching the Paraclete and the progress of the Church are reserved for another volume.
January 1, 1914.
From the Sepulchre to the Throne
“I will wait for God, my Saviour.”—Micheas 7:7.
“You do well to attend, as to a light that shineth in a dark place until the day dawn and the Day Star arise in your hearts.”—2 St. Pet. 1:19.
St. John, referring to the Sabbath which followed the day of our Lord’s Crucifixion, writes: “That was a great Sabbath-day.” It was, in fact, the greatest and most solemn Sabbath of the Jewish year, since it fell within the Paschal Octave.
The Evangelists give no account of what took place on the Sabbath, during which Christ rested in the garden tomb. We know that the disciples of Christ respected the Sabbath rest, for we read in the third Gospel that “the women who were come with Him from Galilee, following after (sc. the dead Body of Jesus) saw the sepulchre, and how the body was laid … and on the Sabbath-day they rested, according to the commandment.”
We may also infer that on this Sabbath, the guards were sent to keep watch at the sepulchre, since St. Matthew records that on “the next day, which followed the day of preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees” went to Pilate and petitioned him for a guard. Nothing else of the events of that great and ever-memorable Sabbath-day is recorded, doubtless because no special incident occurred.
Yet how we should like to know something about the thoughts and sentiments of Christ’s friends and foes during those hours of prescribed rest and worship! Can we glean nothing from the pages of Holy Writ? Can we not read between the lines, and judge fairly accurately of their dispositions, from our knowledge of the respective characters of the Apostles and disciples, and of our Divine Master’s foes? Also, seeing that we are conversant with the way in which the Jews spent their Sabbaths, can we not fill in certain details without rashly venturing into the realms of pure conjecture?
Let us reverently make the attempt. Thus, during the hours of the Easter vigil, while we wait for the Resurrection of God our Saviour, for the “Light that shineth in a dark place,” our souls will find spiritual nourishment “until the day dawn and the Day Star arise” in our souls. Let us try to reconstitute the memorable scenes that must have taken place on that “great Sabbath-day.” By study, devout meditation, and prayerful contemplation, we may thus, in some feeble measure, be allowed to
“Turn back the veil, and see the world as when
The Master walked;
Delve into the hearts of men, to whom
The Master talked;
Mark deep the hush of Nature as
The Master slept;
Tremble with those for whom
The Master wept.”11
The Evangelists are explicit and unanimous as regards the day on which our Redeemer was crucified. We will examine their testimony.
St. Matthew, after having related the burial of Christ, and how “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary” for a time remained sitting over against the sepulchre,” goes on to explain that “the next day, which followed the preparation,”21 the chief priests and Pharisees went to Pilate to ask him that a guard might be sent to keep watch at the tomb.
St. Mark confirms St. Matthew’s statement and, according to his custom, translates the Hebrew word (Parasceve) for the benefit of his Gentile readers. The second Evangelist gives the note of time thus clearly: “And when evening was now come (because it was the Parasceve—that is, the day before the Sabbath), Joseph of Arimathea … went in boldly to Pilate and begged the body of Jesus.”32
St. Luke writes: “It was the day of the Parasceve (i.e. on which Christ was crucified and buried), and the Sabbath drew near.”43
St. John confirms the testimony of his fellow-Evangelists when he says it was “by reason of the Parasceve of the Jews,” that “they laid Jesus” in Joseph’s tomb, “because the sepulchre was nigh at hand.”54
Now we know that the Jews reckoned their Sabbath from sunset to sunset. Jewish teachers traced this custom to the oft-recurring words found in the first chapter of Genesis. “And the evening and the morning were the first (second, third, &c.) day.” They remarked the inversion and concluded that the Creator ceased His work of Creation at sunset, and explained that, in consequence, the day began at eventide.
According to the tradition generally accepted, Jesus was crucified on the 15th of Nisan, the first month of the Jewish year. Nisan corresponds approximately to our month of April, and, at the Paschal season, sunset occurs in Jerusalem just about 6 p.m. Jesus expired at three o’clock on Good Friday. The darkness which enveloped the earth “from the sixth until the ninth hour” again gave place to light after the earthquake was over. Nature had recorded her protest against the awful crime of deicide, which puny, sinful man had been permitted to perpetrate. Jesus was already dead when, at the request of the Jews, the soldiers proceeded to despatch the two thieves, whose agony was still prolonged. St. John explains the rulers’ motive in thus petitioning Pilate: “It was the Parasceve,” and “the bodies might not remain upon the cross on the Sabbath-day (for that was a great Sabbath-day).”61
Therefore, without delay, they were taken down. The Roman soldiers contemptuously flung the dead bodies of the thieves into a trench near by. Meanwhile, Joseph and Nicodemus were anointing the dead Body of Christ.
When, to the great relief of the Blessed Mother of God and the disciples, the Roman soldiers, carrying the ladders, ropes, and hammers, had left Calvary, we may presume that those disciples of Christ, who had previously “stood afar off” ventured to approach. From St. Luke we learn that the ministering women followed Jesus to the tomb.
Who can measure the sorrow which filled their souls as they turned away from the tomb which contained their Lord? The stone had been rolled up to the entrance; the Sabbath was now close at hand. The second signal would shortly be given from the House of the Lord, and the blasts of the trumpets would announce that the Sabbath rest had begun. Fittingly did the trumpet sound towards three o’clock on that holy day, when Jesus redeemed His people, for the trumpet is a symbol of kingly and divine power, both physical and spiritual, and Jesus had just won the victory over Death and Sin.
The ministering women hastened towards the city. Some appear to have reached their homes before sunset, for St. Luke refers to their having “prepared spices and ointments,” after which they “rested,” i.e. they purchased the spices and began to prepare them on the sixth day, before the beginning of the Sabbath. They commenced their labour of love on the Parasceve, just before sunset, and they finished their preparations for anointing Jesus on the following day after sunset. Although Nicodemus had generously contributed one hundred pounds of spices, yet the ministering women longed to add their more modest offering. Others of their company—at least two, if not more—“remained sitting over against the sepulchre.” Thus we may contemplate St. Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary”—the mother of James and John—sitting in silent grief, looking at the sepulchre which contained the dead Body of Him, whom they so loved and to whose service they had devoted themselves and their possessions.
Let us follow the holy women as they hasten home to prepare their spices. It is a spring evening, towards the hour of sunset. All nature teems with signs of life—the barley-fields are ripe unto the sickle; the ears of wheat are rapidly filling out; the fig-trees are in full blossom, and the flowers are budding. Jesus is dead and buried, the darkness and the earthquake are over, and Nature has resumed her wonted garb. Little these sorrowful disciples of Christ trouble about their surroundings. Deep grief blinds us to our environment, or if, by chance, we take note of it, there is so often a jarring sense of the discord arising from what we see around, and the pangs we are suffering interiorly.
Jerusalem is crowded with pilgrims. In every house the Sabbath lamp is now burning brightly. Crowds of people, dressed in festal robes, throng the streets. The vast multitudes of worshippers, who have just left the Temple, are returning to their respective dwellings. For both the Temple and the city gates close at sunset, and some of the pilgrims have their tents pitched on the slopes of Olivet and in the other suburbs of the Holy City. Moreover, sunset is quite close, and all devout Jews take care not to be more than a Sabbath-day’s journey from their homes when the trumpets sound forth the second signal. On their way home, the holy women purchase the spices needed for the ointments they propose to prepare. They reach their dwellings; there, perchance, other followers of Jesus have remained hidden, and the eye-witnesses of the Crucifixion and Burial of Jesus are asked to tell the story of His Passion. We know how touching are the written records of the Passion; how often emotion prevents a preacher from continuing his theme. What, then, must have been the story of the Passion when related by an eye-witness! Friends press them to take food; they feel no need of it, though the customary mourners’ “consolation meal” has been prepared by some neighbour. This meal consisted of bread, eggs, and lentils (the last mentioned being a symbol of death). Their one thought is for their Master; in spirit they are with Him in the tomb.
But, hark! The trumpet sounds again—the Sabbath has begun—and “they rested according to the commandment.” Throughout those long hours they meditated on the last sufferings and words of Jesus and mourned for Him, as far as the Jewish customs permitted informal lamentation for the dead on the Sabbath.
Meanwhile, Mary Magdalene and her companion have heard the trumpets announcing the commencement of the Sabbath. Yes “the great Sabbath” has begun its course. God, after creating man on the sixth day of the week, “rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done;”71 in like manner, Jesus, having uttered His blessed “Consummatum est,” and redeemed fallen humanity, rested from His labours. On this great Sabbath—the last of the Old Covenant—the sacrifices ceased to have a prophetic meaning, for the types and prophecies which foreshadowed and announced the Atonement had all been fulfilled. Never will there be another Sabbath so great, so full of blessings for the human race.
We can picture Mary Magdalene as she sits gazing upon the tomb. What a yearning sorrow is hers! All light and hope has, for the time being, gone out of her life. Jesus, her All, is dead. She has seen Him cruelly tortured—done to death before her eyes, and she was powerless to prevent men from insulting her loved Master. She could but kneel at His pierced feet and pour out her repentant love, and, as she knelt there, lo, the Precious Blood had trickled down upon her garments! The penitent, who had bedewed His Sacred feet with her tears, was bedewed with His atoning Blood. Silent, speechless, and heartbroken, Mary Magdalene watches and weeps at the sepulchre. Mary, the mother of James and John, sits beside her. Does she realise now what she had asked for when she petitioned that her two sons might be respectively on Christ’s right and left when He should enter into His Kingdom? Surely the words of the Redeemer to her sons would have flashed back to her mind and have stood out in their true significance: “Can you drink of the chalice that I drink of?” and in that dark hour of apparent failure and ruined hopes, her mother’s heart would have involuntarily framed the petition “God forbid!” Mary, the mother of James and John, had looked to Jesus of Nazareth as the Messias of Israel. Ardent, devoted and loving, she and her sons had thrown in their lot with that of Jesus. Now the awful blow has fallen, and she suffers for herself and her sons. We can conjecture that she was glad that John, her son, had been brave enough to stand by the cross.—No other Apostle had been so courageous.
But there are others waiting on the great Sabbath-day in the Valley of the Shadow, numerous disciples and the eleven Apostles, whose Messianic hopes have been so ruthlessly trampled upon. It must needs be so, for the depth of the shadow will give greater relief to the light when the Day Star shall arise in those stricken hearts—it is ever darkest before dawn!
Where is St. Peter? Since he rushed forth from the court of the high priest, we have heard nothing more about him, except that he was overcome with sorrow for his triple denial. What bitter reproaches filled his soul! Where did he go? Probably to some dwelling where he would be out of sight of his Master’s foes. Peter loved Jesus with all the ardour of his soul. True, in an hour of weakness, in a moment of panic, and “fear which is nothing else but a yielding-up of the succours from thought,” Peter had denied his Master, but when better thoughts prevailed, when the sweet, calm, reproachful glance of Jesus fell upon him, what a revulsion it worked in the fallen Apostle’s soul!
The “succours of thought” have returned, grace has touched his soul, and now, through the long Sabbath hours, Peter—the model of all true penitents—weeps bitterly. According to an old tradition, he stole, under cover of darkness, to the blessed Mother of God, in order to accuse himself and seek her help. In all probability, the Apostles found refuge in the Cenacle—the traditional home of Mary, the mother of St. Mark. Contemplate the Eleven during these hours of rest. What terrible memories, bitter reproaches, and sad forebodings overwhelm their souls! They sit there, now in silence, stunned, paralysed with grief, now exchanging a few words with one another. They are ashamed of their cowardice, each and all. Thomas remembers how he had once generously said to his fellow-disciples: “Let us also go that we may die with him,”81 and undoubtedly he was in earnest at the time. What a gulf separated the resolution from its fulfilment!
There is St. Andrew, who had brought Peter, his brother, to Jesus. How grieved he is over Peter’s denial and his own cowardice! All the Eleven had forsaken Jesus and fled when He was arrested. Now the “little flock,” whom the Good Shepherd loves so tenderly, are cowering together in that upper room, trembling for their own safety, and overwhelmed with the awful memories of their Master’s Crucifixion. Jesus, their All-in-All, has died on the cross—His dislocated, mangled, inanimate Body lies in the rock-tomb. All their Messianic hopes are interred with Him, for, according to the Rabbinical teaching, the Messias could not die—therefore, they have been mistaken. Jesus was indeed a holy prophet, powerful in word and work, but not the Redeemer of Israel. Thus these heartbroken, loving Apostles foolishly reason, for they still love their dead Master, though all hope of ever seeing Him again is extinguished in their souls. In truth, “on that great Sabbath when they sat and communed thus,” the doors being shut for fear of the Jews, “as yet they knew not the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead.”91
In their sorrow, perhaps the thought of their own future comes before them now and again. What can they do but return to Galilee as the discredited disciples of the Nazarene, who has been crucified? The mission which they had fondly imagined to be theirs, seems to have completely vanished. Nothing remains for them but to take up the old strands of life, to go back to their boats and nets and, as best they could, bear the brunt of the world’s ridicule and the grief of their disappointed hopes.
Now that Jesus is dead, how bitterly they reproach themselves for having begrudged Him the precious ointment which Mary Magdalene, in her love and clearer foresight, had lavished upon their Lord! He had said on hearing their murmurs: “Let her alone … for she, in pouring this ointment upon My body, hath done it for My burial.”102 Now they blame themselves for not having grasped His prophetic words literally. They had had so little insight into His anguish of soul, so little sympathy with His fears! How they regret this now! How could they have been so foolish as not to understand that He really was to die the death of a criminal? Then they think of Judas, the son of perdition. Yes, Jesus, their Master, had actually been betrayed by one of themselves—sold for the price of a common slave. What base treachery! Yet when Peter thinks of his threefold denial of Christ, and weeps bitterly for sorrow, he dare not launch out in invective against the traitor. Had Peter not sinned thus, how loudly he would have expressed his indignation, but experience of his own frailty has humbled the penitent Apostle. All had forsaken Christ and fled from Gethsemani, leaving Him in the hands of His cruel captors. John alone, sustained by our Blessed Mother, had had the courage to stand by the cross of Jesus. Doubtless the Eleven had heard of Judas’ awful end; they shuddered when they remembered that the Eternal Truth had spoken of him as “the son of perdition.” They pitied the fallen Apostle, and thought of him as one, who had been more sorely tempted than themselves.
Looking back to the mighty deeds of Jesus, how inexplicable it seemed that He should have allowed His enemies to arrest Him! How often, on previous occasions, He had passed unscathed through their midst! Thus the desolate Apostles wonder, query, pray, and lament throughout the long hours of that memorable Sabbath, while they tremble for their own safety at every unexpected noise. Mourn on, blessed Apostles, for your loved Lord. “In the evening, weeping shall have place, and in the morning gladness.” Though now indeed you have sorrow, “Jesus has promised that He will see you again.” Though He tarry, wait for Him, and when He comes, then indeed “your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man shall take from you.”
Let us now turn our thoughts to our Immaculate Mother. Where did she pass that great Sabbath-day? In the dwelling of St. John, probably in Jerusalem. We know that after our Saviour had commended His Holy Mother to St. John, the beloved disciple took her to his own (sc. home). We cannot press the words “from that hour,” for neither our Blessed Mother nor St. John would have quitted Calvary before Jesus had expired, nor would they have left the other disciples to bury Him. We do not know exactly whither St. John conducted our Lady. Perhaps to the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark, who dwelt on Mount Sion. An ancient tradition states that it was in this house that Jesus celebrated the Holy Eucharist.111
The beloved disciple led the Mother of Sorrows away, after the sacred Body of Jesus had been laid to rest. When the stone had been rolled over the entrance to the sepulchre, Mary, carrying the precious blood-stained crown of thorns left the garden with her adopted son. They passed by Calvary, and we may presume that the Mother of Jesus adored the Precious Blood, which had trickled down the tree of shame and bedewed the earth below. She gazed at that infamous gibbet, infamous in the eyes of the world, for her a sacred altar upon which her Son had agonised, from which He had reigned. How men would honour that cross in ages to come! Now it stands out sheer against the darkening lurid sky. The Son of Man has been lifted up. Henceforth He will draw all men to Him. Mary knows this, and the knowledge is her consolation; she knows, too, that He will rise again. Still, she is but human, and her soul has been pierced with sorrows, such as no creature’s soul ever has or ever will be pierced with, for Mary was immaculate, and consequently she experienced a horror of sin, of which sinful creatures can form no conception. She realised, too, so fully, the dignity of her Divine Son. When the recognition of this truth was obscured in the souls of the Apostles, it was clearly present to Mary. The disciples of Jesus saw Him suffer and they mourned over the tortures inflicted on “the Man Christ Jesus,” but they did not then think of Him as God. Mary knew that her Son was God, and to the awful torture of seeing her child crucified, was added that of knowing that these fiendish insults and sufferings were inflicted on the Incarnate Son of God.
Doubtless Mary craved privacy, that she might strengthen her soul by prayer and mourn for her first-born. St. John, respecting her wish, would have left her alone, knowing how impotent words of consolation were to assuage the grief of the Mother of Sorrows. There could be no formal lamentation over the Death of Jesus. The “Shibah,” or seven days’ ceremonial mourning which invariably followed the burial could not take place, for it was the “great Sabbath-day,” and on the seventh day, none might inaugurate the Shibah. Again, Jesus had been executed as a criminal, and for such no public mourning was permitted. But on the third day, Jesus was to rise—no seven days’ mourning would be needed, nor even commenced for Him, who had triumphed over death.
Yet we can well conceive that some of the Apostles or disciples would try to say a few words of sympathy to the bereaved Mother who was mourning for her first-born. She would admit them and hear from them, as they departed, the familiar formula: “May the Almighty comfort you among all the mourners of Sion and Jerusalem.” Then, perhaps, St. John returned from the sepulchre with his own mother and Mary Magdalene. St. Peter, too, visited our Lady, according to an ancient tradition. Thus in silent grief, prayer, and waiting for the dawn, Mary, the Mother of Sorrows, spent that great Sabbath. She knew the first day of the week would restore Jesus to her, meanwhile she consoled His afflicted disciples, and, full of faith and hope, waited for God, her Saviour, for the hour of His uprising from the tomb. If, as it must needs have been, desolation overwhelmed her pure soul as she thought over the Passion of Jesus, if the acute sensation of loneliness—which ever follows the death of our loved ones—inundated her pure soul, nevertheless, the hope of the Resurrection upheld her during those dark hours passed in the Valley of the Shadows. As we kneel in spirit before Mary, the Mother of Jesus, the Queen of Martyrs, let us salute her in the words of St. Elizabeth: “Blessed art thou among women … Blessed art thou that hast believed, because those things shall be accomplished, that were spoken to thee by the Lord.121 Though Jesus, thy Son, lies in the icy embrace of death, He will rise again to ‘reign in the house of Jacob for ever, and of His kingdom there shall be no end.’ ”
Where were Lazarus and Martha—the friends of Jesus—during the hours when the awful drama of the Passion was being enacted? We know that Lazarus had incurred the enmity of the chief priests, first, because he was a living witness to the mighty power of Jesus of Nazareth, and, secondly, “because many of the Jews by reason of him (i.e. Lazarus) went away and believed in Jesus;” hence the chief priests, when they decided to kill Jesus, “thought to kill Lazarus also.”132 Lazarus, the friend of Jesus, was even in greater danger than the Eleven, for we do not read of any formal proceedings being set on foot against them. They ran the risk of an informal arrestation in Gethsemani, but when the rulers had wreaked their vengeance on the Prophet of Galilee, His handful of illiterate disciples were apparently simply treated with contempt, until such time as they went forth boldly to preach the Resurrection of Christ. Doubtless, Lazarus was in some place of safety, hiding from his enemies, and we may conjecture that Martha, who may have been an eye-witness of the Passion, or who certainly had heard many details of our Lord’s Death from her sister, Mary Magdalene, would have taken care to inform her brother of all that had happened. Overwhelmed with grief, Lazarus mourned for his “Friend” and Saviour. The knowledge that the hatred of the rulers had been intensified, and the execution of their vengeance precipitated by his having been raised to life, and that thus, indirectly, he himself had been the proximate occasion of Jesus’ Death, must have pierced Lazarus’ soul as he thought over the awful sufferings of our Lord. How deeply Lazarus realised that Jesus had died for him!—because He had worked a miracle for him!
How well Lazarus remembered that illness—the last agony! How vividly the recollections crowded into his memory—that moment when, restored to life, he found himself lying swathed in his tomb—how he had come forth in the light of day—the majestic features of his Saviour—the awe depicted on the countenances of all who stood around that grave! He remembered, too, how kindly hands had loosed his bands, how he had fallen at the feet of Jesus, the Master’s loving embrace, the return home, and the feast given in Jesus’ honour. During that supper, Jesus had spoken of His own Death and burial, but, like the Apostles, Lazarus had not taken the words literally. Now, Jesus his Deliverer, lies in the garden tomb, and His lacerated Body bore witness to the torments of the scourging and the Crucifixion. Could not He who raised Lazarus have foiled those who sought His own life? Why, then, did He not use His Power? But no, He allowed Himself to be “led as a lamb to the slaughter.” As such thoughts passed through Lazarus’ mind, we can well conceive that the words rose to his trembling lips: “Would to God that He had never recalled me to earth, since this miracle has cost Him His life!”
Thus Lazarus, like the ministering women and the Apostles, foolishly reasoned. All Christ’s disciples, so “slow of heart to believe all things” which the prophets and even Christ, their Master had spoken, failed to grasp the consoling truth of the Resurrection; they believed indeed that all men would “rise again in the resurrection at the last day,” and doubtless they accepted our Lord’s predictions concerning His Resurrection as references to the general resurrection. Mary, the Mother of Jesus, alone understood the real meaning of her Son’s words. She believed firmly that He would rise on the third day.
There were other disciples of Jesus who, on that great Sabbath-day, mourned for Him, whom they had accepted as the Messias who should redeem Israel. In the Galilean tents set up on the slopes of Olivet for the accommodation of the pilgrims from the north, many disciples mourned bitterly for Him, whom on Palm Sunday, they had acclaimed with their joyous Hosannas. That was only six days ago, but how much longer it seemed! So many things had taken place between that first day of the week and the great Sabbath day. How much they would have to relate when they returned home! How their festal garments and the enforced joyful note of the Sabbath feast jarred upon them! Some dared not manifest their grief for fear of running any risks as the followers of Jesus of Nazareth; others, who loved Him sincerely, could not restrain their feelings. Had He not blessed their children, fed them in the desert, healed their sick and raised their dead? Had He not spoken to them, as no man had ever spoken?
Never again in the history of our earth will there be such groups of sorrow-stricken, despairing souls since Christ, having delivered up Himself once for us, dieth no more, “death shall no more have dominion over Him.”141
What lessons may we learn from these faithful mourners, so full of love and yet so weak in faith? Perhaps the most salient lesson is that men’s darkest hours are planned or permitted by our merciful Heavenly Father, and that, however dark and desolate the long night of sorrow may be, yet we “do well to attend,” “to wait patiently,” for by faith we know that all must come right in the end. Sooner or later, for every faithful disciple of Christ who waits for God his Saviour, the Light will shine in a dark place, the day will dawn, the Day Star will arise in his heart. Yes, even when he mourns those dearest to him, he knows, by faith, that he has but parted from them in time’s brief day, to meet them again on the shores of eternity.
Another lesson stands out clearly in relief, namely, that by our want of faith, we increase the weight of our cross. Our dear Lady suffered on this great Sabbath as no other human being ever has or can, but in her lonely and desolate soul, pierced by the sword, the lamp of hope burned brightly. She knew her Divine Son would rise again on the third day. The weeping women and the griefstricken Apostles had no hope, consequently their burden seemed intolerable. Let us learn from their error to be wiser; to trust our Saviour and to make our own the triumphant cry of heroic courage uttered by holy Job: “Although He should kill me, I will trust in Him, … and He shall be my Saviour.”151
SUMMARY FOR MEDITATION
First Prelude.—Contemplate the various groups of mourners on that great Sabbath-day—the holy women, Mary Magdalene, the Apostles, our blessed Mother, Lazarus, the faithful Galilean disciples.
Second Prelude.—Ask for the grace of a firm faith in Christ’s promises, that we may never mourn as those who have no hope.
First Point.—Jesus is in the tomb. The Jewish Sabbatical customs are duly observed by the faithful followers of Christ. The ministering women quit the garden, purchase their spices, and return to their homes. Mary Magdalene also leaves the sepulchre with the other Mary. How deep is her yearning sorrow, her passionate grief for her Lord, on that great Sabbath!
Second Point.—The Apostles assemble in the Cenacle. They fear and tremble for themselves. They reproach themselves with having deserted their Master. They mourn for Him with a despairing sorrow.
Third Point.—Mary, the Mother of Jesus, repasses in the bitterness of her soul all the tortures of the Crucifixion. The image of her Divine Son—dead in the tomb—is ever before her. She knows that He will rise again. Hers is a hopeful, trusting, loving sorrow.
Colloquy.—Pray for grace to believe the promises of Jesus, your Master, to hope against hope. Ask that in your dark hours you may cling more firmly than ever to them. Ask pardon for past diffidences and discouragements. Pray for a hopeful, loving submission to God in all your trials of mind, body, or estate. Intercede for those who are in sorrow or bereavement. Ask our Lady to intercede for them and for you.
Jesus’ Foes: Herod Antipas, Pilate, and Caiphas
“They rejoiced against Me.… They said: Well done; well done; our eyes have seen it.”—Ps. 35:15.
“The sinners in Sion are afraid, trembling hath seized upon the hypocrites.”—Isa. 33:14.
We have contemplated the friends of Jesus as they mourned for Him in the bitterness of their souls on that great Sabbath-day: let us now turn our thoughts to the enemies of Jesus, to Herod Antipas, Pontius Pilate, and Caiphas with his kinsmen and friends. What were their sentiments on this memorable Sabbath, and where did they spend it?
The three rulers who sat in judgment upon Jesus, all dwelt on the mountain south-west of the Temple. This district was known as the Upper City in the time of Christ, and “Sion” was the name then given to the Lower City on the southern slopes of the Temple Mount. Since the fourth century, however, the name “Sion” has been given to the south-western part of Jerusalem both by Jews and Christians.161
Let us take our stand upon the magnificent bridge which spans the Tyropœon Valley, connecting the eastern with the higher western hill—the Lower with the Upper City. This bridge was built long before the kingly builder—Herod the Great—beautified the Holy City, for, over it, Pompey passed when he profaned the Temple of God. It is a colossal structure, fifty-one feet wide, standing upon five arches, of which the span of each measures forty-two feet, while the massive piers, which support them, rise one hundred and twenty feet from the depths of the ravine.
What a train of associations, sacred and historic, what a crowd of feelings, joyous and sorrowful, press upon us as we gaze upon this noble bridge! Many a time in days gone by have the kings of Juda marched across it in solemn splendour to pay their vows to Jehovah in His Temple. Many a time has Jesus our Redeemer crossed this bridge; but a few hours ago, He who now lies in His tomb was led over it—a captive guarded by the Roman soldiers, as they hurried Him to the palace of the High Priest on Mount Sion. We look forward some thirty years and a vision rises before us—we see Titus standing upon the shattered arch, appealing to the defenders of Sion to lay down their arms and accept the yoke of Rome, while behind him the flames from the burning Temple cast their lurid glare over the awful scene. But thirty years and this massive bridge, yonder glorious Temple, and the palaces in Sion will be levelled to the ground, and this is but a small part of the chastisement meted out to the guilty city.
Now let us fix our gaze upon Sion. It lies due west and rises from the steep western scarp of the Tyropœon Valley up to the plateau, which Herod has levelled to provide a spacious site for his royal dwelling. Sion is a city of palaces—the aristocratic quarter of Jerusalem. The extreme western boundary stands some 2500 feet above sea-level and 120 feet higher than the Temple area. The whole district is dotted with palatial dwellings. Narrow streets running northwards and eastwards separate the various buildings. The footpaths stand three or four feet above the causeways, lest the pedestrians should incur legal pollution by coming into contact with any unclean object.
Southwards, we notice the pinkish-yellow hills of Moab, and the deep blue waters of the Dead Sea, and beyond them the myriads of sand hillocks which distinguish the Desert of Judea. On our left, Mount Olivet rises higher than Sion. If we look towards the north, the Temple stands out against the sky in all its beauty, and beyond it, we notice the square fortress of Antonia with its lofty towers at each corner. Beneath our feet, yawns the precipitous Tyropœon Valley, of which the steep western scarp rises about 120 feet from its lowest part.
As our eyes fall on these scenes of marvellous beauty, the words of the psalmist seem to re-echo in our ears. Well may he, in his inspired psalms, have thus sung the praises of Jerusalem: “Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of our God.”171 “He shall not be moved for ever that dwelleth in Jerusalem. Mountains are round about it.”182 “The Lord hath chosen Sion, He hath chosen it for His dwelling.”193 There alone could sacrifice be offered to Jehovah, and there the Lamb of God was immolated. Thoughts which lie “too deep for words” crowd in upon us as we contemplate the Holy City in the days of its greatest glory—that land hallowed by the presence of the Word made flesh, that city without which He now lies entombed.
We will accept the psalmist’s invitation: “Surround Sion and encompass her, tell ye her towers.”201 Leaving the bridge and turning to the left, we find ourselves in the vast covered stadium called the Xystus. Already in the days of Antiochus Epiphanes—“the illustrious”—the Jews had built themselves “a place of exercise in Jerusalem”212 in imitation of the Greeks. But this covered collonade on which we are gazing is far more beautiful, for Herod the Great built it as a fitting approach to his royal palace on the brow of the Hill of Sion. Here large assemblies gather for pleasure and for business. Look at that ancient castle just beyond the Xystus, close to the old city wall, built by the different kings of Juda. It is the ancient fortress erected “by the children of Asmoneus (i.e. by Simon Machabeus), the Royal Palace of the Asmoneans.” From the upper storey, we can overlook the Temple Cloisters and Courts.
Who dwells here now? Herod Antipas, “that fox” who murdered St. John the Baptist, and to whom Jesus, when questioned by him, opposed the majesty of silence. It was here that Herod and his courtiers despised and mocked Jesus. They rejoice that the Galilean prophet, who refused to work a miracle to please the king and courtiers, is now dead. While Herod banquets on this great Sabbath, his sycophants relate what they have heard in the city concerning Jesus of Nazareth. The king, who has long desired to kill him, rejoices: Herod, that cunning, intriguing “fox” is glad, because the Roman soldiers have accomplished what he himself would have liked to have done, but having killed St. John the Baptist, and thus angered the Jews, he dared not venture to lay hands on Jesus. The words of the psalmist re-echo in that princely banqueting hall: “Well done, well done, our eyes have seen it.”
Yet this wicked joy is not unmingled with fear, for Herod knows all about the mysterious phenomena connected with the death of Jesus. He remembers the martyrdom of John, and his fears lest his victim and Jesus might be one and the same person; lest John had indeed risen from the grave. The Prophet of Galilee had foretold His own death when, in answer to Herod’s messengers, He had said: “Go tell that fox: Behold I cast out devils and do cures, and the third day I am consummated.”221 The prophecy has been fulfilled, the Galilean is dead. What if the prediction of His resurrection, which men say He has also foretold, be likewise fulfilled? If Herod rejoices that he is now friends with Pilate, who has rid him of Jesus, he cannot but fear in his inmost soul. He had shown respect for the Baptist and had put him to death reluctantly—for his oath’s sake—but Jesus he had mocked and outraged: what if this Prophet and Wonder-worker should rise and torment him? Surely we are justified in applying the prophetic words to this cunning king: “The sinners in Sion are afraid, trembling hath seized upon the hypocrites.”
Leaving the venerable Asmonean palace, we turn westward, and passing along by the ancient boundary wall, we reach the Royal Palace of Herod the Great, originally built for himself and his descendants. Archelaus, his son, dwelt there until his banishment to Vienne in Gaul, and since then this Royal Palace has been the residence of the Roman Procurators. Pilate dwells here whenever he comes up to Jerusalem. What a compact mass of buildings! The northern part consists of a fortified castle with three large towers—Hippicus, Phasael, and Mariamne, named respectively after Herod’s friend, brother, and murdered wife. The Mariamne Tower stands on the eastern side of the Castle enclosure, Phasael forms the north-eastern angle, and Hippicus the north-western. Phasael, the highest of these three towers, is 160 feet high; Mariamne, the lowest, 115 feet. The bases of these towers are built of solid masonry, on which there are immense cisterns. Over these, we see the soldiers’ quarters, armouries, and storerooms. Turrets crown these towers, and spacious breastworks provide places for the slingers and archers in time of war.
Beyond the Castle—farther south—is the Royal Palace, which surpasses even the Temple in magnificence. The architecture—Greco-Roman—and more Greek than Roman, reveals the royal builder’s Hellenistic taste. Look at the vast courts and the broad terraces with their columns of serpentine and porphyry! A strong wall, thirty cubits high, surrounds the whole block of buildings. At regular intervals, turrets rise above this wall, designed both to beautify and defend the palace. Each tower is built to accommodate one hundred guests, and the two royal banqueting halls, the Cæsarium and the Agrippium, afford space for vast assemblies. In these, the State banquets are given, and on this great Sabbath the Roman Governor, his wife, and numerous guests are banqueting.
The open courts are planted with fruit and forest trees. Tall poplars rise against the skies. Flocks of tame doves may be seen circling round. A canal passes through the garden, and fountains spring from bronze statues. In this truly Royal Palace, we may gaze in spirit upon the Roman Governor, whom the Jews detested for his various acts of tyranny and cruelty, and who but recently has mingled the blood of some Galileans with the blood of their sacrifices. They hate Pilate, although he has given in to their wishes and handed over to them the Galilean, whose Precious Blood they have so gladly poured forth in their blind fury.
Procla has related to her husband the terrible dream concerning that “Just Man,” and this narration has greatly increased Pilate’s anxiety. Like all selfish, unprincipled men, he puts forward the plea of expediency in order to justify his cruel, cowardly action. He recalls how he has already offended the Jews by commanding the Roman standards with their emblems to be carried into their Holy City and was forced to remove them. Also they had appealed successfully to Tiberius when he placed those gilded shields on which were invocations to the gods. Then he had rifled their sacred treasure chests, and but a short time ago, those Galileans had been slain during the Paschal season in the Temple Courts.
These things happened before the Roman Governors were allowed to take their wives with them, when stationed in a provincial district. Profiting by this permission, Procla has come up to Jerusalem with her husband. In reply to her reproaches, we seem to hear Pilate assuring his wife that, had she seen the infuriated Jews on those occasions, she would not have advised him to spare this Galilean and to run the risk of his being again reported to the Emperor. Besides, he had tried to release Jesus, knowing that the rulers had delivered Him up through envy, and he had even caused Him to be scourged, hoping thereby to pacify their vengeance. Nothing but the blood of this Nazarene would satisfy these enraged rulers; even the populace clamoured “Crucify Him, crucify Him.” Only when the rulers had questioned his loyalty to the throne of Cæsar had he abandoned Jesus to their will. As a sign that the guilt was theirs, not his, he had even publicly disclaimed all responsibility by washing his hands in their presence. They had accepted the guilt of that Nazarene’s Blood and exonerated him. Now all is over, Jesus of Nazareth is dead, and, at the chief priests’ request, he has sent guards to keep watch at the tomb until the third day—a useless piece of work—but it was better to yield to their petition. Now he wishes to hear no more about the matter.
Claudia Procla is silenced but not convinced. Some years later when, giving up the Jewish faith—to which she was a proselyte, according to an ancient tradition—she embraced Christianity, it must have been a consolation to remember that she had interceded for that “Just Man,” and had striven to obtain his release. Christians in all ages bless her for her brave deed, her name will be honoured, whereas as long as time lasts, countless generations—as yet unborn—will learn that the Incarnate Son of God “suffered under Pontius Pilate.” This Roman Governor will be held up to execration as an example of a coward, who sacrificed duty and principle to further his own interests.
Jesus is dead! His unjust judge tries to dismiss the subject, to forget the Prisoner whose majestic demeanour inspired him with such awe, whose words were so calm, whose claims so great. Like Caiphas and Herod, Pilate decides that it is “well done,” for the trial and condemnation of Jesus have ingratiated him with the Jews and reconciled him to Herod Antipas. The death of the Galilean Prophet, innocent as he was, has furthered Pilate’s interests, and the time-serving judge does not look beyond this narrow boundary to the life of the world to come. How many thousands of earth’s denizens do likewise!
Now we will visit another place—that of Caiphas the high priest. It stands on the southern slope of Sion, between the house of Annas and the Cenacle. It was a palace and a court of justice. In this palatial residence, we may conjecture that Caiphas and Annas, together with their kinsmen John and Alexander, partook of the sumptuous banquet on this the greatest of all the Sabbaths of the year.
The wealthy Sadducees and the proud Pharisees had at last satisfied their implacable hatred and vengeance. From the commencement of Jesus’ public ministry, the rulers of Israel had opposed Him. His mighty works had spread His fame throughout Judea. This aroused their jealousy, and when Jesus was ultimately taken prisoner and brought before the Sanhedrin, His enemies eagerly sought for witnesses whose testimony, true or false, would serve as a pretext for condemning Him. Some months before they arrested Jesus, these Jewish rulers had decided to kill Him; they were simply awaiting their opportunity, for it appeared desirable that the judicial murder, they had decided to commit, should have some justification in the eyes of the people. Judas Iscariot’s treachery and the false witnesses brought about what the rulers of Israel desired. The trial was quickly finished, the pre-arranged verdict pronounced, and the execution had swiftly followed. The foes of Jesus congratulated themselves on having at length compassed His death. “They said: Well done, well done, our eyes have seen it!”
We know that the chief priests both mocked at and blasphemed Christ, as He hung upon the cross. Their mocking taunt rang out: “He saved others, Himself He cannot save: if He be the king of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. He trusted in God; let Him now deliver Him, if He will have Him, for He said: I am the Son of God.”231 It is, however, certain that these chief priests did not remain on Calvary until Jesus expired, for by looking upon the dead they would have incurred legal pollution. Doubtless, they were already on their way home, when the first blasts of the trumpet announced that the Sabbath was near at hand. Having taunted their Victim and gloated over His awful sufferings, these priests hurry away to perform their ablutions and put on their festal robes before reclining at the Sabbath banquet. Caiphas, in company with his companions in iniquity, took great care to avoid coming into contact with any unclean object, as they returned to his palace on Mount Sion from the Temple or from Mount Calvary, if he was one of those chief priests who reviled the Lamb of God upon His raised altar of holocausts.
What are Caiphas’ thoughts as he reclines at table partaking of the Sabbath banquet on the great Sabbath? The Jews were commanded to rejoice and to provide the best meats they could afford on every Sabbath, but on this, the greatest Sabbath of the whole year, the richest feast of all was spread. Caiphas is a rich man, and for this festival gathering a sumptuous banquet is prepared.
Surely the pale, majestic Face of Jesus seems ever before the eyes of this guilty judge! The Galilean’s words ring in his ears: “I say to you, hereafter you shall see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of the power of God, and coming in the clouds of heaven.”241 He had claimed to be the Son of God! What if He were indeed a prophet. But no, that could not be, for were He so powerful, He would not have allowed Himself to be captured. Still, that strange, awful darkness and the earthquake, had they any connection with Jesus’ death, or were they simply striking coincidences? Caiphas strives to dismiss the subject; he joins in the conversation, but still the thought of his Victim haunts him.
While he is thus reasoning within himself, striving to justify his evil deed and to persuade himself that it was expedient that one Man should die for the nation, that the death of Jesus of Nazareth was necessary in order to avoid an uprising in His cause—that he, the ruler of Israel—had but performed his duty in condemning Him—even while Caiphas thus strives in vain to deaden his conscience, an eminent official comes in haste from the Temple and asks to see the high priest—the appointed guardian of the House of the Lord—on urgent business.
Caiphas gives orders for him to be admitted, and the messenger announces that the beautiful Babylonian curtain which hangs before the wooden partition, separating the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies, has been mysteriously rent in twain, from the top to the bottom, by an invisible hand. Another portent! Who has dared to commit this sacrilege? Yet the Temple is well guarded. The matter must be seriously investigated. Meanwhile let it be repaired provisionally, as quickly as possible, for at the morning sacrifice, the hanging before the porch leading into the Holy Place must be drawn back that the worshippers may see the Golden Candlestick, the Altar of Incense, and the Table of Shewbread—a privilege only accorded to them at the three solemn feasts and on the Day of Atonement—a privilege which they greatly prize. How troubled the guilty high priest is on hearing the news, though he tries to appear calm, but “the wicked are like the raging sea, which cannot rest.… There is no peace to the wicked saith the Lord of Hosts.”251 Caiphas has stained his hands with the blood of Jesus of Nazareth; well then may his sinful soul be tortured by strange, undefined apprehensions!
Probably Annas and other chief priests recline at table in Caiphas’ Palace, at the banquet of that great Sabbath. They speak of Jesus of Nazareth, rejoicing that a well-deserved punishment has been meted out to Him. But in vain the high priest and his accomplices utter the prophetic words: “Well done, well done, our eyes have seen it!” Their reciprocal congratulations have a hollow sound. Conscience belies their words. They still fear that dead Man in His sepulchre. What if He should rise again? But no, the tomb is well guarded lest any false reports of His having risen again should be circulated. True, He raised others, but He cannot raise Himself, any more than He could save Himself, and come down from the cross. Thus these workers of iniquity strive to stifle their unconfessed fears. That meal is no festal banquet, for the question is ever present to their minds: “Have we really done with Jesus of Nazareth? Are we at last well rid of Him?”
Let them wait until the Feast of Pentecost, some fifty days later. Then their own words will be accomplished: “The last error shall be worse than the first.” Two of the Nazarene’s disciples, Peter and John,—humble Galilean fishermen—will be arraigned before “Annas, the high priest, and Caiphas and John and Alexander,”261 and “many of the kindred of the high priest.” They will be asked “by what power or by what name,” they have healed the lame beggar at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple. What answer will they receive? One which will re-echo, not only throughout the judgment Hall, and in Jerusalem, but which will be heard throughout the world in the course of ages, and the Galilean fishermen’s words will arouse the latent hushed fears of Israel’s proud rulers. In presence of the imposing assembly of the Sanhedrin, Peter will boldly answer: “Ye princes of the people and ancients, hear. Be it known to you all and to all the people of Israel, that by the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God hath raised from the dead, even by Him, this man standeth here before you whole.”272 Then they will realise that, in spite of their crime and scheming, the Galilean has conquered—the last error is worse than the first in their opinion.
The banquet is over; the host and his guests retire to rest. They are weary, for last night they had little or no sleep. It was spent in plotting against the Anointed of the Lord and in compassing His Death. On the morrow they must be up betimes to assist at the morning sacrifice. The high priest usually officiated on festival days and on Sabbaths; therefore we are justified in concluding that Caiphas officiated in the Temple on that great Sabbath, which followed the Parasceve, the day of our Lord’s Crucifixion. In his blind pride and obstinacy, he may even have given thanks to the God of Israel, that the Seducer of the people had fallen into the hands of justice.
While the enemies of our beloved Master alternately experience feelings of malicious joy and vague fears, He lies motionless in His borrowed tomb. Soon the solemn feast will be over; this “great Sabbath” will give place to that still greater “first day of the week,” when the Son of God shall come forth from the grave, when, having risen from the dead, “death shall have no more dominion over Him.” Lovingly and confidently, in company with His Holy Mother, we wait and watch for the first rays of that blessed resurrection morning, which is an earnest of our triumph over death, in and by Him.
SUMMARY FOR MEDITATION
First Prelude.—Standing in spirit upon the bridge which spans the Tyropœon Valley, contemplate the Hill of Sion and its palaces—the Asmonean Palace near the north-eastern angle, the Royal Palace due north-west, the Palace of Caiphas on the southern slope.
Second Prelude.—Pray for firm faith and hope when we suffer at the hands of men—for grace to hold firm, to look to the end—beyond the things of time.
First Point.—Contemplate Herod Antipas, the cunning, sensual foe of Christ. Note the mingled sentiments of this sinner in Sion—vain joy, alternating with vague fears.
Second Point.—Consider the sentiments of Pilate, the base, cowardly judge, attached solely to his interests.
Third Point.—Note how Caiphas and his companions gloat over the fate of the Prophet of Galilee, how these ambitious, envious, hypocritical foes of Christ congratulate themselves on their cruel deed. They rejoice, and nevertheless tremble.
Colloquy.—Ask that evil passions may never rule you. Pray for grace to watch over the beginnings of evil. Intercede for those who persecute the Church of God and for those who are oppressed. Pray for a firm faith in your hours of trial.