the penultimate WORD
Series 2005 -
The Irvine Tartan • My monthly column in The New Brunswick Anglican
Luke 23: 33 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
Of God we ask one favour,
That we may be forgiven –
For what, he is presumed to know –
The Crime, from us, is hidden –
Immured the whole of Life
Within a magic Prison
We reprimand the Happiness
That too competes with Heaven.
A single word, perhaps, catches the air and quickens a memory of hurt or disappointment. Given expression in the building darkness, a single word haunts us. Other times and other places remind us that – Of God we ask one favour / That we may be forgiven…
The noonday darkness of this spring month of Nissan holds secretly hidden Crime. In passing we are arrested by a word carried on the wind – did I hear it right? Forgive them? In this darkened Place of the Skull, in this acre of pain and agony bearing tribute to shame and death should forgiveness find expression? Should absolution find an ear?
Shadows are absorbed and disappear in the darkness that yields neither highlight nor recognition. These are simple forms fixed to crosses – blackened silhouettes against a charcoal sky give a whisper a voice – forgive them.
Grey spectres watch and move imperceptibly among the Centuries, their Talliths whipped by the wind. Soldiers’ cloaks and the shawls of men obscure both sound and sense.
Forgive them? Were those the words that found a soldier’s ear as a hammer was returned to iron? Or was that the wind? Looking up into an ink sky, had those words been given voice by this felon whose face was now obscured by matted hair caught in the wind?
Forgiveness reigned from this unholy place and the words gave pause to neighbouring felons drifting in and out of consciousness – for lack of sleep and lack of blood and a surplus of pain.
Damning and demeaning words were displaced by a word of reclamation.
Bitterness had been challenged by the sweetness of pardon. For what, he is presumed to know – / The Crime, from us, is hidden –. What is the crime forgiven? Hidden from us, we each shrug a shoulder and know that this pardon is pronounced to another.
But not for us.
The Century near the Cross knows that the absolution belongs not to him but to the priest; while the priest knows well, in spite of his pause, that this pardon belongs to faithless cowardice now scattered. The reticent disciple hidden among the crosses knows the soldier is freed.
None see the adhesion of absolution.
And each one forgetting that… Of God we ask one favour, / That we may be forgiven –
The surprise of the absolution has us dodge its aim and for all of that the hillside grows darker yet.
There is but one thing that would satisfy each as they pressed the warm, sea-moistened air over Golgotha – the assurance of God’s forgiveness – not simply for the other but for us as well. We understand our Crimes even less than we understand our opportunity for forgiveness. And above all, we understand ourselves not at all. We hope for absolution and perhaps it is our hope we hear carried on the air as a final opportunity for pardon.
We hear of forgiveness not only for those – then – whose paths led to a cross – but for us as well, today.
Our paths have found no less a place of darkness and fear, converging as in ages past, at a place where forgiveness is given voice. Like those before us, We reprimand the Happiness / That too competes with Heaven. One has heard it, and quite likely another – Forgive them. The vigil in this land of Moriah begins with an assurance of acceptance, neither by degree or kind, but by the favour presumed known – that we need to be forgiven.
And the brokenness within our lives dares be brought forward and exposed in the very darkness that engulfs us. The hidden Crime is addressed in this magic Prison as the captive pardons his captors – then as now.
Other words may perhaps have been said, and even heard, but they have not been remembered. Remembered rather is the gospel note of reclamation where what cannot be expected – but hoped for – is heard. That it was heard and that it touched a soul is witness to the beginning of a drama of redemption that lasted more than three hours, indeed has lasted long enough to reach as far as us.
Copyright © 2005 James T. Irvine
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