Wednesday 27 March 2024

O Friend, on what errand hast thou come?

On Palm Sunday we heard the Passion narrative once more: the sacred history of our salvation; of the betrayal of Christ, of his trial, of his Passion, of his death on the Cross — those “ancient words, newly spoken”; a tale so familiar to us and yet in which we always seem to be struck anew by the tragedy, the violence, the pity, the love… We may notice something that has never struck us before, or hear the passage that always seems to strike at our heart year after year. We will hear the Passion several times over in the next few days, in the liturgy, or in other places. St Philip, we are told, would constantly be reading the accounts of it, and a very profitable thing for us to do in this Holy Week would be to find a quiet place, switch off our telephones, take up a New Testament, and read the account of what God did for us in the Passion, as we find it in the Gospels: to read one the Passion narratives slowly, and to think on it.

We do all seem to have one passage or another which strikes us more than others. The Servant of God Jacques Fesch wrote as he was preparing for his own execution: “Nothing about the apostles does as much for my faith as their incredulity, their rationalism, their weakness, their boasting, and their pride. ‘Who is the greatest amongst us?’ said Simon Peter. And his denial, who does not almost rejoice in it, seeing it as a reflection of one’s own weakness? But how sweet the response is, and how consoling are these words: ‘Jesus having gone out, turned around and looked at Peter’. Who has not felt the gaze of Jesus fall upon themselves, full of love and forgiveness, and who has not wept like Peter?” It is certainly true that those words of the Gospels really do seem to speak directly to us sometimes: of our own lives, our sins, our struggles, and our redemption too.

One phrase from the Gospel which seems especially piercing is that from St Matthew, when Christ, having prayed in the Garden, beholds the rabble come to arrest him. Our Lord casts his eyes upon Judas, who comes to kiss him, to greet him, not in love, but as a sign to the soldiers, as a seal on his betrayal of his Friend. Our Lord beholds him and speaks: “O Friend, on what errand hast thou come?” Naturally there are other translations, but the point is the same. O Friend — underlining the full tragedy of the betrayal, but yet, even then, mercy is offered to Judas. Despite our sins, our betrayal of Christ, still his friendship is on offer to us. The door is not closed as long as we have life in us. Peter would betray him too of course — but Peter in his tears, in his realisation of what he had done to his Friend, he knew there was mercy for him. When Peter heard Our Lord had risen from the dead, he did not flee fearing retribution for his betrayal, but Peter ran, and rejoiced, met the Lord and was restored. How different our sacred history might have been if Peter in his tears had met Judas in his despair. If Judas on his way to destroy himself had met Peter and heard the promise of mercy and of forgiveness, the reassurance that Christ gave to every one of us, that even if after a lifetime of sin if we turn to him, acknowledge our Friend with a contrite heart, well then, even after all that, we can be with him in Paradise…

“On what errand hast thou come?” Our Lord asks this of us all. Every situation, every meeting, every time we go down on our knees to pray to him — what have we come for? He will ask it of each of us when we come to live his Passion with him over the Triduum. O Friend, on what errand have you come? O Friend, why have you come? Let us come acknowledging that often we are Judas, but praying always to be Peter — for seeing the greatness of God’s love displayed for us in all its reality over this Holy Week, we cannot fail to see and to know that there is always mercy, always forgiveness, always a chance to turn to him and begin anew, for there is always his love on offer to us, always our God wanting us to be his friend. Sometimes we need to be reminded of that. Always we need to pray for the grace to accept it.