"I thirst." (St. John 19:28)
In the Word last considered we were left, as we saw, standing without the Holy Place, within which our Lord had passed to endure in solitude the unimagined suffering of His sinless Soul. But while we have stood in reverent wonder before that mystery in which His Soul was made an offering for sin, the sacred Body has still hung in silent agony upon the Cross. Unable to penetrate the mystery of the great interior sorrow of the Passion, our eyes rest again upon the sacred Form which, pallid and white, stands out against the clouds of the now retreating darkness. In all that has taken place within the hidden chambers of the Soul, the physical sufferings of the Passion have not abated. Their very climax is reached in the agony of thirst to which the fever of His Wounds, and the awful weariness of the Cross have reduced Him. The thirst of the Passion follows as of necessity upon the Passion's immeasurable expenditure. Our Lord had spent all that He had. He is shedding now the last drops of His Blood. In the pouring out of His love for us, He thirsts for the requital of that love. "I am poured out like water, all my bones are out of joint. My heart also in the midst of My Body is even like melting wax. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and Thou shalt bring Me into the dust of death" (Psalm xxii. 14, 15).
A prophecy in the Sixty-ninth Psalm had spoken of vinegar being given Him to drink in this hour of His humiliation. As if to invite its fulfilment, Jesus utters these words, "I thirst"; and one of the soldiers made haste, and dipping a sponge in a vessel of sour wine, he raises it upon the stem of hyssop to our Saviour's lips. It is suggestive that this saying of our Lord, like the preceding one which it has quickly followed, is connected with a prophecy of the Psalms. Spoken thus together after a long period of silent suffering, these two sayings sum up better than other words could, the double agony of Mind and Body which our Lord had to feel. And in both sayings He is applying the measuring rod of the Cross. We have seen Him applying it to the dimensions of man's sin in its outrage against God. In this Word He applies it as the measure of God's love to the sinner. We cannot do better then, than to take this, our Lord's solitary confession of physical suffering, as revealing to us His purpose in the mystery of pain.
The world has always been baffled by the problem of pain. In different ways it has tried to meet it, but never, until our Lord came with the key of His Cross, was there any to unlock this secret, and solve the mystery of suffering.
Some had opposed to pain a proud, unyielding spirit. They had sought by means of a stern philosophy to show themselves superior to what they regarded as the necessity of a blind, remorseless fate. Such could see no purpose in the trials and sorrows of life, but viewing them only as inevitable evils, they sought to steel themselves against them, relying in this solely upon the pride of their unaided will. If they must needs suffer they would demean themselves as who should say before his tormentors, "Afflict me if you will, but know that you shall never wring from me a recognition of your power." Bravely some have persevered in acting out this difficult part which, when most successfully achieved, leaves the spirit only the harder and less God-like for the struggle. But the human heart cannot for long sustain this role. It must be honest with itself. Sooner or later, and in its own way, it must give expression to its suffering, and seek for sympathy. It can indeed suffer, and suffer in patience. But it cannot suffer alone. Our Lord gave expression to the great need of the heart when in the Psalm, in the dread apprehension of His Passion, He cries: "O go not from Me, for trouble is nigh at hand, and there is none to help Me" (Psalm xxii. 11). He does the same here, when he utters the cry, "I thirst," and invites our sympathy in what He is yet so willing to bear.
But another method of dealing with the problem of pain is the very opposite of that just considered. Since sorrow is ever dogging the footsteps of the children of men, some have made it the one great end of existence to elude its touch, and bj every means possible to cheat it of its purpose. This is that materialism which makes pleasure the end of life, and consults the senses rather than the reason or conscience as its guide to happiness. It makes the demands of the body paramount, while it smothers the nobler aspirations of the soul. And this was the philosophy dominant in the world, when with parched lips our Lord utters from His Cross the cry "I thirst." We may depend upon it, nothing short of the Passion of the Son of God, with its consecration of physical pain, could have wrought the miracle by which, in the space of a few years, millions were to be rescued from shameful degradation of the body, to the self-mastery, and purity and holiness of the religion of Christ.
And once more this cry of physical pain was perhaps necessary to refute an error which while old enough to have disturbed the Church in the early days of her history, has in our own day been revived and taught with the saddest havoc of souls. There were those in an early age who taught that Christ did not truly suffer; that it was not a body of veritable flesh and blood which hung upon the Cross, but a phantasm which, though it appeared to suffer, in reality knew no pain. In like manner there are those to-day who, while professing the Name of Him who said on the Cross, "I thirst," tell us that there is no such thing as pain. We need not pause at such a time as this to do more than note the contradiction. On Good Friday, at least, few will contend for a Christianity whose cross is a fable.
No, as our Lord had a true Human Soul, so He had also a real Human Body; and as His pure Soul felt the weight of our sin, so His Sacred Body truly suffered, and truly died for our sin. And because He once suffered Who now lives forevermore triumphant over death, pain is not for us Christians the evil the world has so long regarded it. Even were it possible for us by one prayer to have all pain and sorrow taken out of the world, it would be an act of folly to utter that prayer. Sin being what it is, the one great evil, and the world what it is, as it lies dead in sin, pain is the indispensable antidote of a moral corruption which but for this restraint would have passed all bounds. Pain is necessary to sober us in our pleasures, to teach us detachment, to recall us when forgetful to the true meaning of life. Pain is left in. the world as its stern but merciful purifier, and any sufferer whom it summons to bear his part in that which is so necessary, may, if he will, suffer along with Christ, and fulfil a mission at least as glorious as any which makes demand upon active and energetic toil. Whether or not we have ourselves had our part in this vocation of suffering, we are all the time partaking of benefits ministered at the hands of sufferers whose hearts are sorrowing, or whose bodies are in pain. And how many of such blessed ministrants to our life there are! When some stubborn spirit of pride takes possession of the heart, or some baneful stress of passion lays hold upon the senses, how sweet, how wholesome is the rebuke that comes from some bed of sickness, it may be from some little child who folds his tiny hands patiently, as he lies in pain upon his cot, and from his little white pulpit preaches to us silently, but so eloquently, of the humility and purity of the Cross of Christ. How often has it been the example of some sufferer that has taught us that there is something better and higher in this life than the following of our own way, the seeking of our own pleasure!
But then, besides, the suffering in the world is love's great opportunity, the invitation to unselfishness, the call for heroic self-surrender. Sad indeed would this world be if the dreary spectacle of its selfishness and lust and greed were not often relieved by the moral beauty of self-sacrifice. Yet it is the presence of pain that makes these virtues possible. And how manifold and how beautiful are the ministries which it is ever calling into exercise! How little in comparison should we know of the love of our very dearest but for the unselfish manifestations of sympathy which trouble or pain have called forth, and caused them to lavish upon us. How imperfect would be even the knowledge of a mother's love, did the child's tears never need her sympathy! Out of the sufferings of humanity have sprung up the many noble charities established for their relief, which are enduring monuments of the sympathy and love which the Cross has brought into the world! To these sufferings we owe the gentle patience of Sisters of Mercy, the tender care which follows armies in battle, the heroic devotion to duty of many a faithful priest, and of many a good physician, and indeed every self-sacrificing act which enriches and ennobles life. How purifying, how uplifting, and how necessary to the welfare of our spiritual life are these examples of self-sacrifice! Ever and again when the world seems settling down into its groove of selfish monotony, there arises even though it be out of some cruel disaster, the deed of heroic self-sacrifice, in which someone unknown by name, who thought he was but doing his duty, has laid down his life for others, and pointed us all again to the beauty of the Cross. For after all there is nothing which so appeals to the heart, or holds it under so mighty a spell, as the beauty of self-sacrifice.
Let us turn then again to the Temple of our Lord's Body as the law of suffering is fulfilled in It. That suffering had been typified by the blood shedding of the countless victims of the earthly temple. But it was not possible that the blood of hulls and of goats should take away sin. "Wherefore when He cometh into the world He saith, Sacrifice and offerings thou wouldest not, but a Body hast Thou prepared for Me" (Heb. x. 4, 5).In that Body which is both the Temple of His Ministry, and the material of His Sacrifice, we behold Him as He utters this complaint of physical pain. Since we could not enter with Him into the secret sorrow of His Soul, let us look upon this. Lo! here He speaks plainly, and speaks no proverb. In His sacred Body, racked upon the Cross and tormented with thirst, He speaks a language which all can understand. In nothing could He so commend His love to us, as by what He suffered for our sakes.
Pain was no new thing in the world when He came into the world to redeem it. Men fled from pain or vainly mocked it, but until He came and laid His Hands upon it, none knew how to use it, nor understood why it should be so plentiful on the earth. Far from spurning it, He made choice of it as of inestimable worth in the purpose for which He had come. That purpose was to declare His Father's love to a fallen world, and to redeem it from its sin. But how shall He make men believe that level By His miracles? "I have wrought many wonderful works among you, for which of those works do ye stone Me?" By His words? "If I say the truth, why do ye not believe Me?" Ah! there is still one language of love when every other fails, and that is the language which is uttered from the Cross, whether in spoken word, or still more wonderful silence--the language of suffering. We might still have had the treasures of our Lord's teaching, we might still have had the example of His most holy life, but never could we have learned His love for us except as He translated it into the language of pain. "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (St. John xv. 13). "I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me" (St. John xii. 32). It is the measure of the Cross which demonstrates to us the height and depth, the length and breadth of the love of Christ.
Let us then learn the wisdom of the Cross. Let us not foolishly mock at pain, let us not in terror and dismay flee from it; but when, by the will of God it comes to us, let us go forth to meet it. Let us dare to embrace it, and make it our friend, for it will be to us a friend in very deed. With it as our companion, let us lift up our eyes to Him who hung upon the Cross, and by uniting our will to His let us sanctify our suffering. By such a proof of our love shall we give drink to Him, who in draining the cup of sorrow for us, said "I thirst."
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