Some time during his life St. John Fisher (1469-1535) delivered a Good Friday sermon that is built on two verses from Ezekiel:
“And I looked, and behold, a hand was sent to me, wherein was a book rolled up: and he spread it before me, and it was written within and without: and there were written in it lamentations, and canticles, and woe.” (Ezekiel 2:9)
Ezekiel, Fisher notes, then says that he was told to eat this book and bring it to the people of Israel:
“And he said to me: Son of man, thy belly shall eat, and thy bowels shall be filled with this book, which I give thee. And I did eat it: and it was sweet as honey in my mouth.” (Ezekiel 3:3)
Ezekiel’s book, Fisher writes in his sermon, can be taken to be the Crucifix, a book above all other common books. After listing twelve reasons why we should mediate in awe before a Crucifix, Fisher states:
“Thus that list with a meek heart and a true faith to muse and to marvel of this most wonderful book (I say of the Crucifix), he shall come to more fruitful knowledge than many other which daily study upon their common books. This book may suffice for the study of a true Christian man all the days of his life. In this book he may find all things necessary to the health of his soul.”
So it is good that we meditate in prayer before a Crucifix, remembering that:
“. . . we were the cause, we committed the sin. But yet nevertheless He bare the pains and burthens of our sins upon His back. … And therefore when we behold the image of the Crucifix in any place set up, we should think how grievously sin was punished in the body of our Saviour Christ.”
We also should think, Fisher reminds us, about how much God hates sin, how much more we deserve the suffering that Our Lord endured, and how if not for his death we would be barred from heaven:
“Furthermore, if sin was so grievously punished in Him that never did sin, how bitterly shall it be punished in thee, O sinful creature, the which hast done so many great outrageous sins? Surely where He hath one nail in His hands and feet, thou sinful creature hast deserved one hundred. And for every thorn that He suffered in His head, thou hast deserved a thousand. And for every one lash that He felt of the scourges, thou art worthy to have innumerable.”
In meditating before a Crucifix, we can experience sorrow and joy – sorrow when we reflect on the horrible death Our Lord endured for us, and joy when we reflect on the mercy of God.
Filled with the great sorrow of Mary Magdalene, St. Peter, St. John the Evangelist, Our Lord’s Blessed Mother, and all the apostles and saints, take some time this Good Friday to mediate before a Crucifix (or an icon of the Crucifixion, if you prefer), keeping in mind these words of St. John Fisher:
“For sinners Christ Jesu died, there was no cause but sin. Thy sin was the cause of his death; thy sin gave Him His death’s wound. O sinful creature, how much cause hast thou for to be sorry! For thy sin was the root and fountain of all His sorrow, and yet thou ceasest not daily by thy sin to increase His sorrow.”
Take to heart, too, the words of St. Gregory the Great that Fisher leaves us with as a postscript to his sermon:
“The memory of the Crucified crucifies vices.”
While meditating on the Crucifix crucify your vices, knowing that even though sorrowful there is reason for great joy:
“What greater evidence and proof mayest thou desire, that He will forgive thy sins, than that He would put this most inestimable jewel into such a danger for thy sake, and send it unto this most painful and shameful and sorrowful death on the cross? …
Lament with Jesus on the cross, Fisher reminds us, and sing with him at the resurrection:
“I say, therefore, forsake thy sins, and accuse thy unkindness, and be sorry for it; and doubt not but He will forgive and forget thine unkindness and receive thee again unto His great mercy.”
The date St. John Fisher delivered his Good Friday sermon is unknown; however, it was published the year he was martyred, 1535.”
Quotations are from Fisher’s “A Sermon: Lamentationes, Carmen, Et Vae” in A Spiritual Consolation and Other Treatises, edited by D. O’Connor (London: Burnes, Oates, and Washbourne, 1935), now out of print.
Scripture passages are from the Douay-Rheims Bible.