Of all the wounds Jesus felt physically on that Friday, probably none hurt Him as much as those inflicted by His friends, deserting Him in His greatest hour of need and comfort.

The entire course of history changed on a Friday afternoon at 3. At that moment, when Jesus “gave up the ghost,” (Luke 24: 46) He redeemed the entire world. As St. Paul explained, He revealed Himself as the King of all creation.

In whom we have redemption through his blood, the remission of sins. Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: for in him were all things created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominations, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him and in him. And he is before all, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the first born from the dead; that in all things he may hold the primacy: because in him, it hath well pleased the Father, that all fulness should dwell; and through him to reconcile all things unto himself, making peace through the blood of his cross, both as to the things that are on earth, and the things that are in heaven. (Colossians 1: 14-20)

At the moment of Jesus’ death, all lingering questions of the Greek philosophical world and the lingering desires of the Jews were answered. Jesus was the Christ, the first principle and the right reason, He who answers all questions and brings all things into and through Himself.

Yet, such a moment cannot be understood purely philosophically or intellectually. There is something deeply moving, poetic, and soulful in that moment at 3pm that defies all rational thought and all objective analysis.

In his 1939 speech at the University of St Andrews, “On Fairy Stories,” J.R.R. Tolkien argued that the Passion and its eventual conclusion several days later, was the sum of all of our hopes and fears in this world as understood through myth and story. “I would venture to say that approaching the Christian Story from this direction, it has long been my feeling (a joyous feeling) that God redeemed the corrupt making-creatures, men, in a way fitting to this aspect, as to others, of their strange nature,” the greatest of twentieth-century mythmakers argued. After all, the “Gospels contain a fairy-story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories.” In particular, he continued, they are “artistic, beautiful, and moving.” Yet, they also distinguish themselves for all other myths. All other myths were mere stories, but they each, if properly told and understood, pointed to the one true myth, the incarnation, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus. “The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe [happy ending] of Man’s history,” he claimed, and the “Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy.” Professor Tolkien also issued a stern warning in his Scottish lecture. “To reject” the incarnation, the death, and the resurrection of Christ “leads either to sadness or to wrath.”

How very intensely perceptive.

It’s difficult to piece together the story of Jesus’ death from the four Gospels. What do we learn? Quite a bit, frankly, but there are still huge gaps in all of it. On Thursday evening, Jesus broke bread with his disciples. After, they retired to the Garden of Gethsemane, not only did His closest friends fall asleep, but Judas, one of the twelve, betrayed Him with a kiss. The following day, as Pilate condemned Jesus to death, Roman soldiers brutally beat Him, ruthlessly over and over. Crucified, Jesus died around 3 on Friday afternoon. “From midday a darkness fell over the whole land, which lasted until three in the afternoon,” when our Lord cried to His Father, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me,” exclaimed one last time, and died. At the moment of His death, the world shook, with rocks splitting, graves opening, and many of the dead walking the earth en route to paradise.

Yet, no matter how dramatic the moment in terms of physical terrors, I can never but think of the betrayal of Jesus by his closest male friends. We’re all familiar, of course, with Judas’s infamous betrayal through thirty pieces of silver, but rarely do we comprehend that every single one of Jesus’ male friends—with the critical exception of St. John the Beloved—betrayed Him in one way or another on that Friday.

Of his male friends, only John stood with Him at the cross. For that, of course, Jesus gave His blessed mother to John for safekeeping, thus setting the stage, later, for John’s numerous writings, his nightmare at Patmos, and the Assumption of Mary bodily into heaven.

Of all the wounds Jesus felt physically on that Friday, probably none hurt Him as much as those inflicted by His friends, deserting Him in His greatest hour of need and comfort.

In some mysterious and incomprehensible way, though, Jesus’ sufferings make ours so much less, physically and spiritually. Somehow, even betrayal has lost its brutal sting.

Whittaker Chambers put it beautifully in his 1952 Witness.

In this book I am again giving you my hands. I am leading you, not through cool pine woods, but up and up a narrow defile between bare and steep rocks from which in shadow things uncoil and slither away. It will be dark. But, in the end, if I have led you aright, you will make out three crosses, from two of which hang thieves. I will have brought you to Golgotha—the place of skulls. This is the meaning of the journey. Before you understand, I may not be there, my hands may have slipped from yours. It will not matter. For when you understand what you see, you will no longer be children. You will know that life is pain, that each of us hangs always upon the cross of himself. And when you know that this is true of every man, woman, and child on earth, you will be wise.

Amen.

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