Holy Friday (Thursday Evening) Reflection: He Who Hung the Earth Upon the Waters is Hung Upon a Tree

This evening we gathered together for the Matins of Holy Friday with the reading of the 12 Passion Gospels. This is truly among the most powerful and contemplative services in the Church year. The Cross of Christ is placed in the center of the Church, and the entire service is done by candlelight. The “12 Gospels” contain all four accounts of the events from Christ’s prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane through His betrayal, trial, and crucifixion. Between each reading are hymns that amplify the story in poetic form. At about the midpoint, just as the crucifixion is about to happen, one of the most profound verses, anywhere, is sung at the 15th Antiphon:

Today He who hung the earth upon the waters is hung on the tree,
The King of the angels is decked with a crown of thorns.
He who wraps the heavens in clouds is wrapped in the purple of mockery.
He who freed Adam in the Jordan is slapped on the face.
The Bridegroom of the Church is affixed to the Cross with nails.
The Son of the virgin is pierced by a spear.
We worship Thy passion, O Christ.
We worship Thy passion, O Christ.
We worship Thy passion, O Christ.
Show us also Thy glorious resurrection.  

There’s a lot to ponder and reflect on there. In fact, as a priest, there is really very little to say after the service of Matins of Holy Friday – and it makes sense that it is customary for all the faithful to depart from the service by bowing before the cross, venerating it, and leaving in quiet contemplation. We are a people of the Cross, we Christians, but often we forget what that really means. My Lord, can we ever really understand what that means? It is why we must rely on His mercy, because we cannot truly grasp, certainly not on our own, the depth of God’s love and sacrifice for us – it would overwhelm us. May the remembrance of His saving Passion focus our hearts on Him, that we might share even a pale reflection of that love to those around us. 

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