Ark of the Covenant – Chapter XIII

Chapter XIII

 

The Death of Jesus – Day of Remorse

 

“Till the day break, and the shadows retire, I will go to the mountain of myrrh and to the hill of frankincense” [Cant. 4:6].

 

St. John and the Blessed Virgin followed the crowd, and made their way to the place of crucifixion.  The course of the mob was arrested several times by the falling of our Lord under the heavy weight of the cross.  After the seventh fall they were obliged to put the cross upon Simon of Cyrene, lest the Victim should die before their vengeance was satisfied.  The Virgin heard all, and saw how her Son was fainting away, but she could not get near Him.  At last they came to the ascent of Calvary, and on its brow they paused in the place of skulls, where unburied bodies had lain in corruption, and where the air was infected with noxious vapors.  Here in a rock they made a place for the upright beam of the cross.  They laid the wood upon the ground and made the transverse beam fast, and then with violence they threw Jesus down upon it.  Mary heard Him fall, and knew they were laying Him out upon the cross.  They stretched out His hands, dislocating all the joints of His arms, and then with heavy mallets they drove the nails through them.  When His hands were fastened, they drew violently down His body, and with one long nail driven through both His feet, they completed the crucifixion.  Mary heard the sound of the mallets, and every blow pierced her heart.  She would have suffered less if the nails had been in her own flesh.  The Victim was now laid out upon His bed of pain, and the soldiers gathered a crowd to raise the cross.  With cries and shouts of derision they bore the cross and its Victim to the hole in the rock, and then with a terrible jolt they let it down into its place.  This violent shock opened afresh every wound, and caused the saving Blood to gush out at every pore.  They then took two malefactors and crucified them on either side, and with jeers and insults they continued to deride the meek and suffering Jesus.  When they were somewhat satiated with these tortures, they withdrew a little, and the afflicted Mother found opportunity to draw near the cross.  The beloved disciple and Magdalen followed her, and they were unable to console themselves, still less to solace the heart of the Virgin.  She came close up to our Lord and looked up into His face to assure Him of her sympathy.  What a sight for a mother to look upon!  The hands and feet of her Beloved were nailed, and on three dreadful wounds hung the whole weight of His body.  The bones were all dislocated and almost forcing their way through the skin.  The crown of thorns still pressed into His head, and He could not even rest it upon the cross, for at every motion some new thorn was forced into His brain.  There the Mother stood and trembled as the cross shook and quivered with the dying agonies of her Son.  She could not alleviate His pangs.  She could not ease His woe.  And when through tears of blood He looked down to recognize her, He saw her broken heart and new grief overpowered Him.  His gentle, His beautiful Mother, was suffering with Him.  She was breaking down under the weight of His grief.  Mary saw this and her eyes were cast down, and from that summit of Calvary she looked down upon Jerusalem and the world, and uniting her heart with her Son’s, she offered the great sacrifice for man’s salvation.  Virtue such as no creature had dreamed of, such as no saint can conceive, crowned her holy obedience.  God accepted her great sorrow and her perfect resignation.  No human heart can enter into her woe.  We can only describe faintly the externals of the scene; we cannot penetrate into the interior of her passion.  Her sorrow stands out alone and unapproachable on the page of human woe.  She drew near to the heart of her Son, and as far as a creature could she shared in His mysterious agony.  When three hours had passed and the sun was at high noon, suddenly He veiled His face, and great darkness covered the earth.  A cold terror seized the multitude, and they shrank away with fear.  The Mother was left undisturbed at the foot of the cross, as the priest stands in silence and solemn awe before the dread altar.  Four times had our Lord spoken – once to pray for the pardon of His murderers, once to forgive the penitent thief, once to express His fearful thirst and to fulfill the prophecy by taking their cup of vinegar and gall; once before the whole universe to recognize His Mother, and to bequeath her to us in the words, “Son, behold thy Mother.”  Now a new darkness comes over His soul.  He withdraws from Himself the consolations of His divinity, and in the fearful agony which ensues, cries out with a loud voice, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me!”  This was the height of His passion, and its most mysterious depth.  The accents of this cry shook the feeble frame of Mary, and almost caused her death.  She trembled like the tree shaken by the gale, or the bark shivered by the storm, and clung to the cross for support in that awful moment.  Thee she stood, clasping with both arms that cross which was now shaking with the last convulsions of her dying Son.  The angel of death hovered near.  He heard his Creator say, “Into Thy hands, O Father, I commend My Spirit.”  His pinions touched the cross.  One word more, “It is consummated,” and Jesus was dead – and Mary looked up once more, a widowed, childless Mother.  Who should give her comfort now?  The light of Heaven was put out.  The world had killed its Redeemer.  She had lost her Son.  The earth, which was Heaven with Him, was now a dreary desert, and she was alone.

Yet more than martyr, without even the consolations of Him, for Whom and with Whom she suffered, she stood firmly beneath His cross.  The sword of Simeon pierced through her heart, and to God she offered her pain.  It was her part in the world’s redemption.

Here, then, let the sinner pause and contemplate the cost of his salvation.  Let him mark well every step in this mysterious passion, and by all its infinite value, learn the price of his own soul and the malignity of his sins.  Our sins of hand, and foot, and tongue were the nails which fastened our Lord to the cross.  Our persevering ingratitude pursued Him even to death and oppressed His dying breath.  Let us give way to remorse for what we have done, for what perhaps we are doing now.  The past cannot be undone.  Its burden of sin must be brought to Calvary, and the soul defiled must there be washed once more, or God can never be our portion.  Let us bring our guilty selves to the bar of conscience, and there find ourselves guilty of the death of Christ, and only seek the mercy He proclaimed to the penitent thief.  The prayers of the Mother of sorrows shall be our refuge, if with true hearts we sympathize in her grief.  And when we approach the valley of the shadow of death, as a just and willing punishment for sin, we shall find the entrance to eternal peace.  Where Jesus and Mary are, there shall be no darkness, for the sting of death is taken away, and the narrow portals of the grave have lost their gloom.  Shall the sinner fear to tread in the road which was hallowed by the footsteps of his God?

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