Today is Maundy Thursday, arguably the climax of our Lord’s earthly ministry, the day He washed His disciple’s feet, gave them the mandate (thus, “maundy”) to love one another, instituted the Sacrament of Holy Communion, experienced agony in the garden, gave His high priestly prayer for his disciples and for all who would later believe (us), was betrayed, arrested, scourged, and abandoned.
After the jump, one of my favorite poems, by George Herbert, a Maundy Thursday/Good Friday poem that brings together many of these themes in an unforgettable way. (Quoted from Gene Veith)
Philosophers have measured mountains,
Fathom’d the depths of seas, of states, and kings,
Walk’d with a staff to heaven, and traced fountains
But there are two vast, spacious things,
The which to measure it doth more behove:
Yet few there are that sound them; Sin and Love.
Who would know Sin, let him repair
Unto Mount Olivet; there shall he see
A man, so wrung with pains, that all his hair,
His skin, his garments, bloody be.
Sin is that Press and Vice, which forceth pain
To hunt his cruel food through every vein.
Who knows not Love, let him assay,
And taste that juice, which on the cross a pike
Did set again abroach; then let him say
If ever he did taste the like.
Love is that liquor sweet and most divine,
Which my God feels as blood; but I, as wine.
by George Herbert 1593-1633
From Johann Gerhard's Sacred Meditations
THE FRUIT OF OUR LORD’S PASSION
The Passion of Christ is my hope
WHENEVER I meditate upon the suffering of my Lord, I cannot but venture a great deal in respect to the love of God and His forbearance toward my sins. He bends His head to kiss me; He extends His arms to embrace me; He opens His hands to bestow gifts upon me; He opens His side that I may behold His heart glowing with love for me; He is lifted up from the earth that He may draw all men unto Himself (John 12:32); His wounds are livid with grief, yet gleaming with love; and in those open wounds we must seek for the secret of His heart. Truly with Him is plenteous redemption (Ps. 130:7); for not a drop only, but streams of blood flowed from five parts of His body. As a bunch of grapes, cast into a press, is crushed by the weight placed upon it, and on all sides pours forth its juice, so the flesh of Christ, crushed by the weight of divine wrath and the severity of our sins, pours out on all sides its precious life-blood. When Abraham showed his willingness to offer his son in sacrifice, the Lord said to him, “Now truly I know that thou lovest Me” (Gen. 22:12). Acknowledge, also, the wonderful love of the Eternal Father, in that He was willing to deliver up to death His only-begotten Son for us (John 3:16)! He loved us while we were yet enemies (Rom. 5:10), will He forget us now that we are reconciled by the death of His Son? Can He be unmindful of the precious blood of His own Son, when He numbers even the tears and the steps of His godly children (Ps. 56:8)? Can Christ possibly forget in His life, those for whom He was willing to suffer death? Can He, enthroned in glory, forget those for whom He bore such awful anguish upon earth?
Consider, O faithful soul, the manifold fruit of thy Lord’s passion! Christ for us endured the bloody sweat, that the icy sweat of death’s agony might not disturb us. He willingly wrestled with death, that we might not fail in the last trying hour, and endured the severest anguish and sorrow, that we might become partakers of the eternal joys of heaven. He suffered Himself to be betrayed by a kiss, the token of friendship and good-will, that He might forever destroy sin, by which Satan had betrayed our first parents under the guise of a tender friendship. He suffered Himself to be taken and bound by the Jews, in order to deliver us, who lay bound in the fetters of sin and under eternal condemnation. He was willing that His passion should begin in the Garden, in making an atonement for sin, because in the garden of Paradise sin had had its beginning. He submitted to be strengthened by an angel, that He might make us the companions of the holy angels in heaven. He is deserted by His own disciples, so that He might unite us to Himself the more closely, who for our base defection had been cast off by God. He was accused by false witnesses before the Council, that we might not be accused by Satan at the last day, through that broken law of God. He was condemned on earth, that we might be acquitted in heaven. He, who did no sin, kept silence before sinners, that we might not be struck dumb for our sins, when brought before the judgment bar of God on account of our sins. He suffered Himself to be smitten on the cheek, to free us from the stings of conscience and the buffetings of Satan; and to be mocked and insulted, that we might set at naught the jibes and jeers of Satan. His face is covered, that He might remove from our faces the veil of sin, which hides God from our eyes, and leads us into culpable ignorance. He willingly submitted to be stripped of His garments, that He might restore to us the robe of innocence, lost through our transgressions. He was pierced with thorns, that He might heal our sin-pierced hearts. He bore the burden of the cross, so that He might remove from us the awful burden of eternal punishment. He exclaimed that He was forsaken by God, that He might prepare for us an everlasting habitation with God. He thirsted upon the cross, that He might meritoriously earn for us the dews of divine grace, and prevent our dying of an eternal soul-thirst. He was willing to be scorched by the flames of divine wrath, that He might deliver us from the flames of hell. He was judged, that He might free us from God’s judgment; condemned as a criminal, that we the real criminals might be acquitted; was smitten by impious hands, that He might deliver us from the devil’s lash; cried out with bitter pain, to save us from eternal wailings; He shed tears upon the earth, that He might wipe away all tears from our eyes in heaven; He died, that we might live; He suffered the pains of hell, that we might never experience them; He was humbled before men, that He might heal our sinful pride; He wore the crown of thorns, that He might win for us a heavenly crown. He suffered for all, that He might offer salvation to all. His eyes were darkened in death, that we might live forever in the light of the heavenly glory; He heard the most bitter scoffs and taunts of wicked men, that we might hear the jubilant shouts of the angels in heaven.
Despair not, then, O faithful soul! Infinite Good hast thou offended by thy sins, but an infinite price has been paid for thy salvation. Thou must be judged for thy sins; but the Son of God hath already been judged for the sins of the whole world, which He took upon Himself. Thy sins must be punished, but God has already punished them in the person of His own Son. Great are the wounds of thy sins, but precious is the balm of Christ’s blood. Moses, in the law, pronounces a curse upon thee (Deut. 27:26) because thou hast not observed all things written in the book of the law, to do them; but Christ was made a curse for thee when He hung upon the tree (Gal. 3:13). The handwriting was written against thee in the heavenly court; but that has been erased by the blood of Christ (Col. 2:14).
Thy passion, then, O holy and gracious Christ, is my last and only refuge!
Gerhard, J. (1896). Gerhard’s Sacred Meditations. (C. W. Heisler, Trans.) (pp. 40–44). Philadelphia, PA: Lutheran Publication Society.
This is a fantastic poem. Enjoy!
by George Herbert
Holiness on the head,
Light and perfections on the breast,
Harmonious bells below, raising the dead
To lead them unto life and rest:
Thus are true Aarons drest.
Profaneness in my head,
Defects and darkness in my breast,
A noise of passions ringing me for dead
Unto a place where is no rest:
Poor priest, thus am I drest.
Only another head
I have, another heart and breast,
Another music, making live, not dead,
Without whom I could have no rest:
In him I am well drest.
Christ is my only head,
My alone-only heart and breast,
My only music, striking me ev'n dead,
That to the old man I may rest,
And be in him new-drest.
So, holy in my head,
Perfect and light in my dear breast,
My doctrine tun'd by Christ (who is not dead,
But lives in me while I do rest),
Come people; Aaron's drest.
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