My Soul, there is a country Afar beyond the stars, Where stands a winged sentry All skillful in the wars; There, above noise and danger Sweet Peace sits, crown’d with smiles, And One born in a manger Commands the beauteous files. He is thy gracious friend And (O my Soul awake!) Did in pure love descend, To die here for thy sake. If thou canst get but thither, There grows the flow’r of peace, The rose that cannot wither, Thy fortress, and thy ease. Leave then thy foolish ranges, For none can thee secure, But One, who never changes, Thy God, thy life, thy cure.
One of the main things which sent the first disciples out into the world with the message of salvation was the conviction embodied in the first Christian creed: Jesus is Lord!
It’s found in Acts 2 in one of the first sermons ever preached…let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, who you crucified, both Lord and Christ.
For those first disciples, this Lordship of Jesus was at the heart of everything.
For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.2 Corinthians 4:5
Belief and theology can get very complicated. The Church of England has 39 Articles of Belief, the Salvation Army has 11 Doctrines. The early church had just three words: Jesus is Lord!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.Philippians 2:9-11
Of course, it was only after the Resurrection that Jesus was called LORD as the highest title for him. When the word was used in the gospels, its meaning was nearer to ‘Sir’ or ‘Master’, it was only later that Jesus was distinctively and characteristically called ‘The Lord’.
There are so many names for Jesus, ‘Saviour’ being especially associated with Good Friday, and ‘Lord’ with Easter Sunday. Saviour and Lord are both important. Just like Good Friday and Easter, they go together. Accepting Jesus as Saviour implies crowning him as Lord.
We accept Jesus as Saviour on Good Friday and crown him as Lord on Easter Sunday. The two go together. On this Easter Sunday, let’s humbly bow before him and crown him Lord of all.
Today is Holy Saturday, not Easter Saturday. Easter starts with the resurrection of Jesus when darkness is turned to light. In stillness, earth awaits the resurrection.
For Holy Saturday this year, I simply share some of the German libretto with an English translation (as I did yesterday for Good Friday).
67 Recitative [Bass, Tenor, Alto, Soprano] and Chorus
Bass: Nun ist der Herr zur Ruh gebracht. Now is the Lord brought to peace. Mein Jesu, gute Nacht! My Jesus, goodnight!
Evangelist: Die Müh ist aus, die unsre Sünden ihm gemacht. The trouble is over, which our sins caused for him. Mein Jesu, gute Nacht! My Jesus, goodnight!
Alto: O selige Gebeine, O sacred bones, Seht, wie ich euch mit Buß und Reu beweine, See how I weep for you with penance and remorse, Dass euch mein Fall in solche Not gebracht! That my fall has brought you into such distress! Mein Jesu, gute Nacht! My Jesus, goodnight!
Soprano: Habt lebenslang, As long as life lasts, Vor euer Leiden tausend Dank, Have a thousand thanks for your sufferings, Dass ihr mein Seelenheil so wert geacht’. For having valued so highly the salvation of my soul Mein Jesu, gute Nacht! My Jesus, goodnight!
Wir setzen uns mit Tränen nieder We sit down with tears Und rufen dir im Grabe zu: And call to you in your tomb: Ruhe sanfte, sanfte ruh! Rest gently, gently rest! Ruht, ihr ausgesognen Glieder! Rest, you exhausted limbs! Euer Grab und Leichenstein Your grave and tombstone Soll dem ängstlichen Gewissen For our anguished conscience shall be Ein bequemes Ruhekissen A pillow that gives peace and comfort Und der Seelen Ruhstatt sein. And the place where our souls find rest. Höchst vergnügt schlummern da die Augen ein. With the greatest content there our eyes will close in sleep.
For Good Friday this year, I simply share some of the German libretto with an English translation. See also here.
Bin ich gleich von dir gewichen, Although I have strayed from you, Stell ich mich doch wieder ein; Yet I turn back once again; Hat uns doch dein Sohn verglichen Your son has settled the account for us Durch sein’ Angst und Todespein. Through his anguish and death agony. Ich verleugne nicht die Schuld; I do not deny my guilt; Aber deine Gnad und Huld But your grace and favour Ist viel größer als die Sünde, is much greater than the sins Die ich stets in mir befinde. I find constantly in myself.
51 Recitative [Alto]
Erbarm es Gott! Have mercy, God! Hier steht der Heiland angebunden. Here stands the saviour, bound, O Geißelung, o Schläg, o Wunden! O scourging,o blows, o wounds! Ihr Henker, haltet ein! You executioners, stop! Erweichet euch Are you not softened by Der Seelen Schmerz, The soul’s agony, Der Anblick solches Jammers nicht? The sight of such misery? Ach ja! ihr habt ein Herz, Ah yes! You have a heart Das muss der Martersäule gleich That must be like the post used for torture Und noch viel härter sein. And even far harder still. Erbarmt euch, haltet ein! Have mercy, stop!
65 Aria [Bass]
Mache dich, mein Herze, rein, Make yourself pure, my heart Ich will Jesum selbst begraben, I want to bury Jesus himself within me, Denn er soll nunmehr in mir For he now within me Für und für Forever Seine süße Ruhe haben. Shall have his sweet rest. Welt, geh aus, lass Jesum ein! World, depart from my heart, let Jesus enter!
But let’s go back to Palm Sunday as Jesus rode into Jerusalem in defiance of the people’s expectations, they misunderstood the nature of his coming and purpose. He came as the Prince of Peace, having previously set his face towards Jerusalem, resolved to go the way of the cross.
Jesus never took the easy way out of a situation; he wasn’t going to be turned from this final challenge. He knew the direction his life was taking, he wasn’t a weak-minded person overtaken by events, he was in full command of what was happening. This resolve was thoroughly tested in Gethsemane, but his mind had already been made up.
Holy Week is not just about the victory of Easter morning, but the victory Jesus secured when he set his face towards Jerusalem.
In Gethsemane we see both his humanity and divinity; his humanity telling him to escape the situation, his divinity telling him to obey. Luke tells us that Jesus, being in anguish, prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.
We can’t attempt to fathom the depths of his suffering at this time, as the hymn says, ‘We do not know, we cannot tell, what pains he had to bear’.
My music of choice on Good Friday is Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. It selects itself, and still has the power to shock and move the human spirit. This moment is powerfully expressed:
He is ready to taste the bitterness of death, to drink the cup into which the sins of this world, hideously stinking, have been poured.
Here we have the paradox of a loving God and a suffering Christ, something we can’t fully explain, yet:
We believe it was for us, he hung and suffered there.
Jesus quoted Psalm 22 on the cross: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Sin separates us from God. As Jesus took on our sin it separated him from his heavenly Father, a moment of true abandonment. But the psalm has a positive ending, it’s victorious. It foreshadows the Resurrection, and this was why Jesus was able to say ‘your will be done’ in Gethsemane.
Like as the waves make towards the pebbl’d shore, So do our minutes hasten to their end; Each changing place with that which goes before, In sequent toil all forwards do contend. Nativity, once in the main of light, Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crown’d, Crooked eclipses ‘gainst his glory fight, And Time that gave doth now his gift confound. Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth And delves the parallels in beauty’s brow, Feeds on the rarities of nature’s truth, And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow: And yet to times in hope my verse shall stand, Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand.
To be, or not to be, that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles And by opposing end them. To die—to sleep, No more; and by a sleep to say we end The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks That flesh is heir to: ’tis a consummation Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep; To sleep, perchance to dream—ay, there’s the rub: For in that sleep of death what dreams may come, When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, Must give us pause—there’s the respect That makes calamity of so long life. For who would bear the whips and scorns of time, Th’oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely, The pangs of dispriz’d love, the law’s delay, The insolence of office, and the spurns That patient merit of th’unworthy takes, When he himself might his quietus make With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear, To grunt and sweat under a weary life, But that the dread of something after death, The undiscovere’d country, from whose bourn No traveller returns, puzzles the will, And makes us rather bear those ills we have Than fly to others that we know not of? Thus conscience doth make cowards of us all, And thus the native hue of resolution Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought, And enterprises of great pith and moment With this regard their currents turn awry And lose the name of action.
This is an additional resource to go with An instrument of your peace posted yesterday (Sunday 14 March 2021). It’s an expanded version of the well-known prayer from Pax Christi USA. Please read it slowly, prayerfully, and reflectively.
Lord, make me a means of your peace.
Where there is hatred caused by fear and intolerance, let me sow love, in your gentleness.
Where there is vengefulness caused by injustice, let me sow forgiveness, which brings reconciliation.
Where there are doubts about the power of love over weapons in resolving conflicts, let me sow the faith that comes with knowing that you, who are mightier than all things, are love itself.
Where there is despair of being able to do anything to turn human hearts away from war, let me sow the hope that comes with realisation that we are not alone, for you are working with us and through us.
Where there is the darkness caused by the shadow of war, and where there is sadness caused by death let me sow the light of your wisdom that illuminates for us the way of peace.
In violence and conflicts, let me sow the joy of your promise of new and eternal life.
Father, we can do these things if you help us to realise that it is in giving them to others that we, in turn, receive them too, that it is in pardoning others who harm or upset us that we are pardoned by you. And that it is in giving our whole lives to you, be to spent bringing your message of love and peace for all people, and not just your friends – in short, dying to ourselves, that we are given eternal life in your kingdom.
O, how much more doth beauty beauteous seem, By that sweet ornament which truth doth give! The rose looks fair, but fairer we it deem For that sweet odour which doth in it live. The canker-blooms have full as deep a dye As the perfumed tincture of the roses, Hang on such thorns and play as wantonly When summer’s breath their masked buds discloses: But, for their virtue only is their show, They live unwoo’d and unrespected fade, Die to themselves. Sweet roses do not so; Of their sweet deaths are sweetest odours made: And so of you, beauteous and lovely youth, When that shall fade, my verse distills your truth.