ND   The Friendship of Christ / by Robert Hugh Benson

Christ our Friend Crucified


Our Lord has just cried aloud that Sixth Word in which He proclaimed that there was finished at last that "Father's business" of which He had first spoken in the Temple. Now He droops His Head again little by little upon His Breast, and in the words that he had learned at Mary's knee -- words in which every Jewish child committed the care of his soul into God's care through the coming night -- He commits His spirit into His Father's hands. For the evening is drawing on and the Sabbath is near in which once more, God, having seen all that He has done, pronounces it "Very good" and rests from His labours.

I. The thought of this Peace of Death into which our Divine Friend is passing is one of the most moving considerations of the Passion. He has been about His work for thirty-three years; and not for one instant, since He first drew mortal breath in the frosty stable of Bethlehem, has He ever yet truly rested. Even while He slept His Heart waked.

For that labour of His has included among other things the laying of foundations for the reform of the whole world. The whole of civilization, if it is to survive, the iron progress of the Roman Empire, the developing instincts of barbarian nations -- all must remodel itself on the basis that He has laid down, or cease to exist. More than this: He has been laying down the constitution of a greater Kingdom than ever the world has seen -- that Supreme supranational Society from which Kings must draw their sanctions and republics their right to command; for the successor of His Vicar is to be "Father of Princes and Kings and Lord of the World." And meanwhile His countless acts of mercy must be done; not one yearning soul must be sent empty away; not one sick body left uneased; not one transitory need, unsatisfied. And He is Man who has done all this. True, it is God alone who could have done it. No reformer, no philosopher, no monarch has ever even dreamed of founding such a Kingdom as this. But it has been accomplished through Human Nature; it has been the lips of a mortal Man who has said all these things; mortal hands that have laid those foundations; a mortal brain that has had to deal with and translate into human language and act the dreams of a God that must come true. Truly God cannot become weary; but God made man can become weary a thousand times over.

How utterly then has He earned His Rest! And at last He is to find it. The Soul through which such strong agonies have passed, is to sink into that peaceful place of refreshment and light where the souls that have served God according to their graces are awaiting that First Advent of their Redeemer. The Body that has borne so great a burden and heat of the day, that has been wearied with labours, and bowed down by sorrows -- and, at last, has been beaten, pierced and broken by the hands of those for whom such labours were borne -- this Body of His is to be laid in the cool rock-tomb, with wrappings of soft linen, soaked in spices and myrrh, to await once more the inbreathing of the Divine Energy which again shall pass through every vein, sinew and muscle, transforming each utterly back again to the unmarred Divine Image, in which, once again, now no longer subject to any law of limitation or weariness and waste, the Soul that can never sorrow again, shall eternally rejoice. Our Friend steeps at last.

II. The Peace of God that passes all understanding is by far His greatest gift, beyond health or wealth, -- beyond, in a sense, all virtues themselves, since it is their crown and their final reward. It is this Peace in Christ that is the one thing needful, as He Himself tells us: it is that "good part," better than all activities and energies which "shall not be taken away."

It is this for which we look at death -- the one hope that reassures and reconciles us to that violent cessation of activities which is to an energetic and vital soul the chief imaginative horror of death. It is even sometimes (so great is its attraction) -- we might almost say that it must be -- for every soul that is really taking part in the conflict of life, the chief attraction of death. For life must become from time to time an all but intolerable strain -- not only is there that weariness of body which arises from its incapacity to rise always to the demands of the soul; but there is that further weariness of soul arising from its effort to respond always as it ought, to the excitations and demands of grace. If it only were possible, we cry, to cease from striving, to rest wholly on God without even an effort of the will, to relax and to sink into Him who alone is our Rest. And yet we must not; for this is Quietism -- that strangely seductive system which means relaxation and lethargy -- that drowsy sleep of a soul that is created that it may act, of a will that must actively adhere, so long as it can merit or demerit at all. It is only in the "divine necessity" of Purgatory that such a state is possible; and then, only, because it is necessary.

Yet there is a Peace of God even while we live; and it is for lack of this Peace that so many souls fret and beat themselves to Death against the encaging bars of their own limitations. . . . And it must come from one thing and one thing only, namely, a perfect balance in the environment for which our souls were made -- not as of a bird sleeping on the water, but of a bird poised in the air -- a perfect response, that is to say, on the part of our loving and lovable nature to the one adorable Nature which alone can support and can understand us -- in a word, that Peace can alone be found in that of which we have been treating throughout, in an intimate, intelligent, affectionate and voluntary Friendship with Christ, who made us for Himself, and designed His own Incarnation that the union might be complete.

Activities, then, are good and necessary in their proper place. God's work cannot be done without them. But it is absolutely vital that, if these activities are to accomplish their objects, the soul engaged in them must possess Interior Peace. We go to and fro; we succeed or we fail; and it does not greatly matter which, since we have no final standard in this world by which we may estimate the one or the other. But Interior Peace is necessary; since our true "life is hid with Christ in God"{1} -- that Peace which, He Himself tells us, the world can neither give nor take away -- a Peace, that is, which, unlike other satisfying emotions, is wholly independent of external things. It is this Peace into which Christ Himself entered, body and soul, when He committed His Spirit into His Father's hands -- that Sabbath Peace which He first inaugurated, and which "remaineth . . . for the people of God."{2}

Death is no longer frightful; and Life is no longer burdensome. For beneath the chilling stillness of death and the maddening rush of life, Christ and the soul dwell together in that tiny chamber of the heart, hewed out in that which is harder than any rock. It is not this rock that is rent when the graves are opened, and terrors stalk to and fro, and all Jerusalem is in panic; but here at last, when we have learned to die to all save Christ, when He is our All, He also is our Peace.

Let us look up for the last time at that Sacred Body hanging on the Cross. The Blood is all run out, the Soul is departed, and our Friend is at rest. Then let us go, that we may be buried with Him. And may our own souls, and the souls of all the faithful, both living and departed, rest in Him!

{1} Col. iii: 3.

{2} Heb iv: 9.

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