This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
On Holy Thursday evening, the Orthodox Church celebrates a service called “The Passion of Christ,” or sometimes called “The Service of the Twelve Gospels.” It is the longest service of the liturgical year. It also contains the most Scripture of any service of the liturgical year. It begins with what is known as the “farewell discourse” of Jesus, when He spoke His final teachings to His Disciples in John 13-17. In the Gospel passages that follow, we read of Jesus’ arrest, trial before the Sanhedrin, trial before Pilate, His scourging, the walk to Golgotha, the Crucifixion and burial of Christ. The last of the twelve readings takes place on the Sabbath, when the Jews asked Pilate to have the sepulcher made secure until the third day. In the middle of the service, after the fifth Gospel reading, a procession is made with the Holy Cross. We re-enact the walk to Golgotha and the crucifixion. Then we stand and keep watch over Christ on the Cross for the remainder of the service. The faithful are then given an opportunity to venerate Christ on the Cross.
All of the hundreds of verses of Scripture we will hear tonight can be summarized by the two above, which are read during the first Gospel reading. Jesus tells us that we are to love one another as He loved us. He loved us so much that He died for us. We are supposed to love one another in this way. We are supposed to be willing to die for our friends in the same that Jesus was willing to die for us. Jesus goes on to say that there is no greater expression of love than for one to die for his friends.
After speaking about love, and how we should be willing to die for one another, Christ went and did what He told us to do. He died for us. He died for the one that was a loyal follower, as much as He did for the one who was helping to kill Him. God is love. God created us out of love. God saved us out of love. His commandments can be boiled down to two—love God and love one another.
While it is easy to remember two commandments, it is hard to keep them. Because of our sinfulness, we consistently hurt one another, rather than loving one another. Each time we sin against someone else, we are also sinning against God, failing to love Him as well. As we approach Holy Thursday this year, many of us find ourselves as deficits, when it comes to love. We are not loving others like we should. Others are not loving us as we had hoped they would. And we are not expressing our love for God as we should. We may feel like we are in the throes of a battle we cannot win, a battle to love and be loved and a battle to love God as we should.
When a person realizes that they cannot win a battle, they surrender because that’s the only option they have. Our life is a battle for a love. And without Christ, it is a losing battle. Without the Crucifixion, we are not even in the fight. So, what to do? The answer is surrender. Christ stretched out His arms on the cross two thousand years ago. He surrendered for our sins. We need to surrender to Him, to raise our arms up in surrender to His love. If we surrender to love, it will be harder to hate. If we surrender to humility, it will be harder to be prideful. If we surrender to serving one another, it will be harder to take advantage of people. And what are the things and the people we need to surrender to? Our spouses? Co-workers? Friends? Competitors?
Surrender doesn’t mean to roll over and let people walk all over you. Surrender means to let love lead. Let love lead even with competitors. Let love lead with spouses, children, co-workers, and friends. Christ led with love all the way to His death on the cross. He forgave those who were killing Him. We are not likely going to be called on to forgive our own executioners today, but we might be called on to forgive a lesser fault. We might be called upon to be patient and understanding. We might have to give in to something we’d rather have.
As the cross passed by you in church tonight, as you venerate Christ on the cross, as you see his outstretched arms in an embrace of love toward you and all of us, think about what you need to surrender to Him. Think about what sadness or frustration you can place at His feet.
Listen to the Gospel accounts, even if you know the story well. Listen to a nuance you haven’t heard before. Reflect on what He did for us. Reflect on His surrender to us. Reflect on your surrender to Him. And then lay your cares at the foot of His cross and go away with a measure of peace.
Today, He who suspended the earth in the waters in suspended on a cross. The King of the Angels wears a crown of thorns. He who wraps the sky in clouds is wrapped in a fake purple robe. He who free Adam in the Jordan accepts to be slapped. The Bridegroom of the Church is fixed with nails to the cross. The Son of the Virgin is pierced with a spear. We worship Your Passion, O Christ. Show us also Your glorious Resurrection. (15th Antiphon of the Matins of Good Friday, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
We surrender to God by leading with love at all times.