Many of you might recall a certain red-headed man who was around the church and rectory for a while during late fall and into the winter. That red-headed man is my nephew Tommy, my sister’s eldest child; he grew up to be a skilled painter and builder, and he was a massive help to us in making the rectory a habitable place. Tommy is ridiculously intelligent, and after a short time attending Mass at Trinity Church in Red Bank, he had absorbed much of what his Sunday School teachers had taught him. Now, Trinity has a tradition of not allowing young people to receive the Blessed Sacrament until they are Confirmed, but Tommy felt he was ready to receive communion when he was but eight years old, well before the usual sixth grade catechism and confirmation. So my mother set up a meeting for Tommy with Fr. Aldrich, who said he was willing to allow Tommy to receive communion if he could demonstrate the same knowledge and understanding expected of those who had been through the confirmation classes. On the appointed day Tommy sat down with Fr. Aldrich at the church, and after a few moments of small talk, Father asked the eight year old his first question: “Tommy, why did Jesus have to die on the Cross?” Tommy thought for a split second before answering, “Because His Father told Him to.” No other questions were asked, and Tommy received the Blessed Sacrament that next Sunday.
Because His Father told Him to. Of course the whole economy of salvation is more complicated than that – you could spend your whole day learning just the names of all the Atonement theories I had to learn in seminary, most of which were found wanting, to say the least. But Tommy’s simple childhood answer to Father’s question hit one of the atonement nails right on the head. St. Mark tells us that Jesus and His disciples, minus Judas of course, came to a place which was named Gethsemane: and He said to His disciples, Sit here, while I pray. He then took with Him Peter and James and John, and began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy; And He said to them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death: tarry ye here, and watch. And Jesus went forward a little, and fell on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him. And He said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto Thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what Thou wilt. Not my will be done, but Thine – because His Father told Him to.
Tommy was echoing the Blessed Apostle Paul as well. St. Paul, in his epistle to the Philippians, quoted the early Christian hymn we just heard spoken: “Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” Obedient unto death, even death on a cross – because His Father told Him to.
This coming week we are going to hear, see, smell, taste, touch, kiss, experience many things. Today we heard the story in an almost summary form: the entry and palms, the agony and betrayal, the condemnation and cross, the suffering and death. But this week we will experience the story in parts. Thursday we will live out the Last Supper, the Institution of the Eucharist, and watch with Christ through the night; Friday we will suffer with Him as He is brutalized and crucified, even adoring that instrument of death that became for us the means of eternal life. After the Good Friday Mass of the Pre-Sanctified, the Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament will be gone from us until the Great Vigil, and we will feel His absence, the church will actually feel empty. But we know that it wont be empty forever.
No, “Because His Father told Him to” is not the whole economy of salvation, it’s not the whole story of why and how Jesus came to save us. It is, however, a very clear glimpse into the mind of Christ, like a movie reel of the beating of His Sacred Heart. In the obedience of Jesus to His Father we see what life fully lived looks like, what love fully loved looks like, for there is no obedience like the obedience of a beloved Son to a beloved Father, no love given like the love that gives the very life of God for His friends. So come this week, come to follow Jesus into the Upper Room, follow Him to the Garden of Gethsemane, through the praetorium and onto Calvary. Come this week to see what obedience looks like, what love looks like, come see what God looks like.