In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost.
Today is one of the greatest days in the Church calendar, and not just because it is Good Friday. According to tradition, March 25 is the date of the major events which foreshadowed the salvation of the world by Jesus Christ. Tradition records that March 25 was the first day after God finished His work of creation and His resting, and likely the same day man fell into sin and was promised a Savior. By some calculations it is also the date on which Abraham was prevented from sacrificing Isaac, a preview of the Crucifixion. It is believed to be the date when Israel crossed through the Red Sea, an allusion to Baptism and crossing through the Blood of Christ into eternal life. Moving into the life of Christ, March 25 is the date on which we celebrate the Annunciation, the Incarnation of Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit in the Virgin Mary as announced by the Angel Gabriel. This date of March 25 comes from the transition from a lunar calendar, which the Jews used, to the Gregorian calendar, which the world uses today. The Passover is celebrated at sundown the 14th of the month of Nisan, which translates to March 25 on our calendar. Ancient tradition held that great people died on the date of their conception, and for that reason we celebrate the Annunciation on March 25, and Christmas nine months later on December 25. All of that aside, whether tradition correctly records all these events as happening on March 25 we may never know. However, it is fitting for us to take all of these events into consideration because all of them are fulfilled in Christ. The link between the Annunciation and Good Friday is particularly important, because on the same day we celebrate God taking on our flesh we celebrate Him laying it down to redeem the world from sin and death.
In 1608, John Donne, an English poet, wrote a poem about the Virgin Mary at the Crucifixion. In it he said: “At once a Son is promised her, and gone; / Gabriel gives Christ to her, He her to John; / Not fully a mother, she’s in orbity*, / At once receiver and the legacy; / All this, and all between, this day hath shown, / The abridgement of Christ’s story, which makes one / … Of the Angels’ Ave* and Consummatum est*.”
(*Orbity is an obsolete word that refers to the grief one experiences at the death of their parent or child. Ave is a reference to Gabriel’s greeting in Luke 1:28 and consummatum est is the last Word of Christ on the cross, “It is finished,” John 19:30)
The occasion which gave birth to this poem is the same day we celebrate today: Good Friday and the Annunciation of Our Lord falling on the same date. When the Annunciation and Good Friday align, we as Christians are compelled to mark what truths this day provides. On the same day we get to celebrate that Jesus Christ came as a Man to redeem His sinful creation and that He accomplished it. Today is the whole reason for His Incarnation, His birth, and His life. That is why Donne sums up this day as “the abridgement of Christ’s story.” Never is the cross in the manger so clearly seen as when the beginning and end of Christ’s life line up.
Mary knew this day would come; she knew that her Son must die, that He must shed His Blood. Being a faithful Jew, Mary knew what was required for atonement, for sin to be covered. When she was told that her Son’s name would be Jesus, because He would save His people from their sins (Mt. 1:21), she knew what was coming. She knew the sacrificial system. She knew that the shedding of innocent blood was required to cover sin. Simeon confirmed it at Jesus’ Presentation in the Temple when he told her that a sword would pierce her own soul (Lk. 2:35). She would know the pain parents were not meant to know: the death of their children. But this is one of the sorrows which she carries, yet also her joy. Her Son is also her Savior.
This is what Isaiah told us would take place. The same Emmanuel who was to be born of a Virgin (Is. 7:14), the Root springing out of dry ground, would be despised and rejected. He would bear the griefs and sorrows, the sin of the whole world. This is why all things took place as they did between the angel’s Ave, the greeting of Gabriel to Mary at the Annunciation, and Christ’s consummatum est, “It is finished” spoken from the cross. Jesus wasn’t destined to be a casualty of Herod’s paranoia after His birth or a victim of the infuriated religious leaders who wanted to stone Him. He was the true Passover Lamb, and at the right time He would lay down His life of His own power, shedding His Blood as the final atonement for all people of all times.
All of this is why, during Christmas’s rejoicing there is a slight thread of sorrow because the wood of the manger will soon give way to the wood of the cross. It is also why, during Good Friday’s sorrow over sin and the price it cost Our Lord, there is a note of victory and rejoicing that that runs through this day, the knowledge and confidence that Christ, as a Victim won the day, and the cross is no longer a sign of punishment but a sign of triumph, symbol of the world’s redemption because of the One who hung upon it.
We do not deserve what we celebrate today. We are wandering sheep, as Isaiah called us. Every one of us has turned to their own way, all preferring to listen to the tempting voice of the serpent. Yet in spite of this deadly disobedience, not only are we promised a Savior, but He has taken on our flesh to redeem our flesh. The Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all. By His oppression and affliction, pierced hands and feet and side, and innocent Blood sprinkled on the altar of the cross we are freed from sin and death. His death guarantees our life, both temporal and eternal.
That death was given to you at your Baptism. Through water and Word, your sin flowed back in time to Christ’s baptism in the Jordan River and was placed on Him to carry to the cross. And through that same water flowed to you Christ’s righteousness and His death for your sin, covering you in the atoning Blood of the sacrificial Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. And now the fruit and benefit of the cross is given to you as Jesus gives you His Body and Blood to eat and drink for the forgiveness of your sins, the same Body and Blood which were knit together in Mary’s womb and sacrificed on the cross.
As we celebrate today being the day of both Ave and Consummatum est, find the joy in both great words. Ave, hail, rejoice, Mary, for you will bear the world’s Redeemer. Rejoice, Christian, for this Redeemer was born for you. And all that He lived to accomplish stands completed by His cry Consummatum est, it is finished. All that He set out to do, to bring you from death to life, is now done. You are forgiven. You will live with Him forever.
The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Sermons from Mount Olive
Mount Olive follows the historic one-year lectionary (series of readings).