The apostles were ready and eager to follow the Lord as companions until he began predicting the manner of his own suffering and death. His words repelled them. What they wanted was Mount Tabor and not the dreaded hill of Golgotha. He told them off. At the very end, only one of them stood at the Cross.
As Passiontide and Holy Week approach, the tone of the liturgy changes. The Church shifts from focusing on personal sin and asceticism to gazing on Jesus during his last days. From here on, the liturgical readings reveal mounting hostility against him. They call us to deep prayer.
The Messiah’s sufferings and death had already been foretold in the Hebrew Scriptures. In fact, centuries before Christ, the prophecies predicted that the expected Messiah would be despised and rejected by men. (See Pss 22, 24, 60; Is, ch 53, Ez 37:1-15). This is why Jesus identified himself with the Suffering Servant.
As Passiontide and Holy Week draw near, Christians will recall, re-live, and celebrate the saving events of Christ. Through the Paschal Mystery, we are preparing for the climax of the salvation of the world during the week that changed everything. This is the week when our salvation was accomplished.
However difficult it may be to stay with the Lord in his last hours, something would be wrong if we found it easy. It may seem impossible, but it can be done.
Prophecies of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of the Lord
On Palm Sunday, Jesus returns to Jerusalem knowing that he will suffer and die that very week. In a few days, the fickle praise of the crowds will turn to scorn and rejection.
The logic of Good Friday is illogical, the story, wild and appalling. The events of the three-day ordeal confront us as pure chaos. The most explicit and uncanny prophecies are found in Isaiah chapters 50-53, but there are many more scattered throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus’ passion and death may be considered on two levels, the human and the divine.
The human context for the fulfillment of these prophecies is found in a familiar source of suffering–human malice.
Over the centuries, the idea of the Suffering Servant-Messiah ran through these prophecies. Verses in the New Testament support those in the Old. The parallels present a singular and compelling case because no historical figure other than Jesus has fulfilled them. What do the prophecies ascertain about the last week in the life of Jesus? In the passages cited below, the first citation refers to the Hebrew Scriptures, the second to their fulfillment in the Christian Scriptures. They are given below for meditation and prayer.
1. Jesus entered Jerusalem as a king riding on an ass (Zech 9:9/Mt 21:5).
2. He was betrayed by a friend (Ps 41:9/Jn 13:21).
3. He was sold for thirty pieces of silver (Zech 11:12/Mt 26:15; Lk 22:5). These pieces of silver were given for the potter’s field and cast into the temple (Zech 11:13/Mt 27:9-10).
4. His friends deserted him (Zech 13:7/Mt 26:56), and others gave false witness about him (Ps 35:11/Mt 26:60).
5. In his last hours, he was spat upon and scourged (Is 50:6, 53:5/Mt 27:26, 30) and struck on the cheek (Micah 5:1/Mt 27:30).
6. The Messiah was called the sacrificial lamb (Is 53:5/Jn 1:29 who was given for a new covenant (Is 42:6; Jer 31:31-34/Rom 11:27; Gal 3:17, 424; Heb 8:6,8,10;10:16, 29; 12:24; 13:20).
7. He was despised, rejected by men (Is 53:3:1-6), the one who bore “our griefs” (Is 53:4,6);
8. “And with his striped we are healed” (Is 53:5).
The Seven Last Words of Christ
Franz Joseph Haydn (d 1809) worked as the court composer at the Esterházy palace in Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1785, a Spanish priest, Don José Sáenz de Santa María, canon at the Cathedral of Cádiz, commissioned an oratorio from Haydn who wrote seven string quartets entitled “The Seven Last Words of Christ.” The rhythm of each quartet captures the rhythm of the Latin text of the word or sentence Jesus uttered on the cross. It is traditional for the Seven Last Words to be preached and then played in churches on Good Friday before the Liturgy Proper. Years later, when asked how they were performed at the Cathedral of Cádiz, Haydn narrated the following:
“The walls, windows, and pillars of the church were hung with black cloth, and only one large lamp hanging from the center of the roof broke the solemn darkness. At midday, the doors were closed, and the ceremony began. After a short service, the bishop ascended the pulpit, pronounced the first of the seven words (or sentences) and delivered a discourse thereon. When this ended, he left the pulpit and fell to his knees before the altar. The interval was filled with music. The bishop then in like manner pronounced the second word, then the third, and so on, and the orchestra following on the conclusion of each discourse. Each section of music lasted ten minutes.”
The priest paid Haydn by sending him a cake which, the composer discovered, was filled with gold coins. The seven sonatas are preceded and concluded with introduction and Conclusion (“Earthquake” derived from Mt 27:51ff). Below, the first Latin words are given with the English immediately following:
1. Pater, dimitte illis: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34).
2. Amen, dico vobis: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (Lk 23:43).
3. Mulier, ecce filius tuus: “Woman, here is your son; Son, here is your mother” (Jn 19:26-27).
4. Deus meus: “Eli, Eli, lama sabacthani?” “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46).
5. Sitio: “I am thirsty” (Jn 19:28).
6. Consummatus est: “It is finished” (Jn 19:30).
7. Pater, in manus tuas: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Lk 22:46).
“Let us meditate on the Gospels
amidst the confusion
of so many human words.
is the only voice
that enlightens and attracts
that consoles and quenches thirst.”