‘See, my servant will prosper, he shall be lifted up, exalted, rise to great heights’ (Is 52:12).
‘See’ is the first word of today’s first Reading.
There is something very visible, see-able, about today.
Last night, Maundy Thursday, we were in an Upper Room, lamp-lit, shadowy. And the Paschal Vigil of Saturday takes place at night. No-one, except the night, saw Christ rise from the dead. And when he had risen, he showed himself only to a few. The Resurrection is a secret of faith. But today, in full daylight, in public, sentenced by the Roman governor, with an official notice over his head, on the edge of a city teeming with Passover pilgrims, Jesus of Nazareth is put to death on a cross. We don’t need faith to believe that happened. It was visible.
So the first word is, ‘See.’ So we will sing, ‘When I survey the wondrous Cross.’ And the Cross, the Crucifix is the universal Christian emblem and making the sign of the Cross the commonest Christian gesture. It’s in the open.
‘See, my servant…will be lifted up.’ Jesus himself foresaw that. ‘Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up’ (Jn 3:14). Jesus knew it was the Father’s will he be lifted up, made visible, visible to everyone and everything: ‘And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men, all things to myself’ (Jn 12:32).
Everyone of us, whatever our secondary motives, have been drawn here by the Holy Spirit. We have been led here to be shown something by God the Father. We’ve been brought here to see.
And what do we see, as we survey the wondrous Cross? What will we see when, after the prayers, the priest brings it in and sings, ‘Behold the wood of the Cross’? What do we see? With whose eyes do we see? So much depends on our eyes! ‘Behold the man / Ecce homo’, says Pilate to the crowd. ‘Here is your king.’ But what did the crowd and the chief priests and the dicing soldiers and the passing pilgrims, what did they see? What did the three Marys near the Cross see? What did the soldier with the lance see? Or Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus? The beloved disciple? What did God the Father see? Did they, do we, all see the same thing?
At first sight, yes. All of us see, between two others, a crucified man, dying a terrible death. Most of us, in hindsight anyway, can see a tragedy, a miscarriage of justice, innocence condemned, a needless rejection, another instance of humanity’s genius for sabotaging and savaging itself, for doing the very opposite of what’s in its best interest. Random nastiness, vested interests, the failure of a professional class, of a clerical caste, of legal process, of a State and its representatives: they are all there. Looking deeper, it’s not so hard to see the ‘mystery of iniquity’ at work: a kind of outward sign of our inward lack of grace, a sort of anti-, counter-sacrament.
Yes. But is that all? I don’t think so.
If we put on the glasses of Isaiah, what we see is something more. We see a Servant of the Lord. We see someone with a mysterious depth to him, freely, consciously, ‘surrendering himself to death and letting himself be taken for a sinner’, and all the while ‘bearing the faults of many and praying all the time for sinners.’ We see someone ‘pierced through for our faults, crushed for our sins’, but bringing us peace and healing – ‘by his suffering shall my servant justify many.’ We see a lamb of God who takes our sins on himself and thereby takes them away. We see a mysterious exchange: someone taking on everything awry and alienated in us and giving us his uprightness, his communion with God.
If we put on the glasses of the Letter to the Hebrews, we see Jesus, the Son of God, someone taking our human nature and coming into solidarity with us, ‘learning to obey through suffering’. We see our supreme high priest, bringing man and God together.
If we stand near the Cross like Mary, if we stand in the Church, there is so much to see and see with. There are, most of all, the eyes of the beloved disciple, who either is or inspired the Evangelist John. We had those eyes as we listened to the Gospel just now, and we saw the final vision that they left us. ‘This is the evidence of one who saw it,’ he says. And what did he see? He saw Jesus’ side pierced with a spear, immediately after his death, and blood and water flowing from it. Here we come, I think, to what God most wants us to see today. He wants us to see this opened heart and what flows out of it. He wants us to see the heart of his Son and the forgiveness and life that come out of it.
Everyone of us here, I can safely say, has one deepest longing. Everyone of us here wants to be loved. Everyone of us here, please God, has experienced real human love, be it from family or spouse or friends. Everyone of us knows that outside love, our lives wither. They’re miserable, however outwardly successful. Everyone of us too, I think, knows how fragile human love can be. Doesn’t it suggest, point to, open up a need for something more? For a love that can never be shaken. A love that can hold and fill every fibre of our body and soul, every moment of our life. A love that only God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, can give.
What do we see today? With the disciple Jesus loved, we see the love of Christ. We see a love stronger than any evil done to us or done to others by us, a love capable of forgiving and cleansing. A love stronger than that sense of unlovable unloveliness that secretly eats us up inside. A love stronger than death, a love that will never let us die. A love in this life sacramentally conveyed by the water of baptism and the blood of the Eucharist. A love in the life to come destined to overwhelm us in a gentle flood and embrace us for ever.
‘And immediately there came out blood and water. This is the evidence of one who saw it.’ Surely it was Mary who helped him see.
‘See, my servant will prosper, he shall be lifted up, exalted, rise to great heights’. And today, on the height of the Cross, he shows us what we never expected to see, least of all in a crucified man: the merciful love in the heart of God.
May we go home full of that vision, filled by it, living from it, our eyes shining with it!