I have often said that there is a piece of Gregorian chant that fills my head during some liturgical seasons and acts as a “theme song” for the season. For Holy Week, it is to me one of the most beautiful melodies. It was once was the Gradual for the Mass on Holy Thursday.
The text is taken from Philippians ch. 2.
“[Christ became] obedient [for us] to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name.
The brackets at the beginning of the quotation is to indicate a change made to shorten the text. The second set of brackets enclosing “for us” indicates as addition to Paul’s original text made by the Church to stress the redemptive purpose of the Cross. The composer of the music stressed this addition to the text, in Latin “pro nobis,” by setting it to a lilting musical phrase that makes the singer[s] spend a little more time on these words so he can meditate on them briefly.
As I was listening to Mark’s passion on Palm Sunday, one verse jumped out at me.
“Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me …”
Have you ever heard a more poignant prayer? And we already know how the Father would answer it. The author of Mark put the word “Abba” at the beginning of the prayer. This is not in the other two versions of the passion that recount this prayer. “Abba” is a word often heard today in Jerusalem and other parts of Israel, as well as in heavily Jewish neighborhoods in this country. Jewish children use it as our children use “Daddy.” Mark used it here to stress the intimate nature of Jesus’ plea.
The next phrase, “all things are possible to you,” is also missing in Matthew and Luke. [Actually, Matthew inserts “if it is possible.” Seemingly the opposite to Mark’s approach.] It seems as if Mark wants us to understand that Jesus’ suffering was not necessary to save the human race; that God could have saved His people without suffering and bloodshed; and, perhaps more importantly, that Jesus knew it.
Mark seems to want us to ask, “Then why didn’t God just “rear back and pass a miracle” to pardon our sins without the necessity for Jesus to suffer?” I don’t know the answer, but I do know this: Lover’s never stop at “good enough.” They want to go as far as they can to prove their love to their beloved. And when the Lover is love itself, and when he loves with an unlimited and everlasting love, “good enough” is nowhere near good enough.
St. Paul marveled at the overabundance of our salvation in Colossians where he wrote:
“Even when you were dead in sin and your flesh was uncircumcised God gave you new life in company with Christ. He pardoned all our sins. He canceled the bond that stood against us with all its claims, snatching it up and nailing it to the cross.
[As translated in the New American Bible, 1970 ed. More recent revisions to the NAB are more literal and, therefore, less colorful.]
With respect to this last sentence, I have a visualization [certainly not a vision] of it that gives me a great deal of consolation and confidence. I see the legal document itemizing all my sins and failures nailed to the cross just below Jesus’ left hand. The blood streams from his wound onto the bond, and, as it does, the stream turns into handwriting that spells out “ Paid in Full – Jesus.”