the penultimate WORD
Series 2007 -
The Irvine Tartan • My monthly column in The New Brunswick Anglican
Thou within the veil hast
:Wm. Chatterton Dix
Before the women set out for the Garden… Before they gathered the spices to anoint Jesus’ body… Even before they stirred from their fitful slumber, the stone cracked. The seal of the sepulchre fell away into the Passover moonlight. The report filled the air and startled the very foundations of the world. The silence of the Garden broke in an instant, while startled birds stirred from sleep and took flight. Their shadows were woven in the early spring grasses and across worn paths. Nocturnal creatures froze with caution and then darted for safety. Voices of creation rose in a cacophony filling the seclusion and echoing in the tomb.
Creation penned the lyrics and orchestrated a chorus...
O all ye works of the Lord, bless ye the Lord… Praise him and magnify him forever!
O ye rocks and hills… bless ye the Lord!
O ye birds of the air and grasses of the wood… bless ye the Lord!
O ye silent sepulchres and startled creatures… bless ye the Lord!
The Benedicite Omnia Opera resounded before a foot stepped on the early dew. And then silence fell again.
The full moon of Pesach in this month of Nissan cast light on the early visitors as they entered the Garden but they witnessed none of this. Neither the sound… that came first, nor the sight in the wash of moonbeams… that followed were part of their account. They found only the silence that had returned to the secluded place where an empty tomb lay open before them.
Silence attends the Passion and its presence here is characteristic of Jesus.
Before Pilate Jesus was silent.
As the cock cried at the break of Friday’s morning, Jesus looked at Peter and he was silent.
And silence continues. In this early dawn of a new era, it heralds redemption.
The High Priest entered alone the Holy of Holies on behalf of the People of God. His presence there was solitary and alone. No companions could travel with him, there. To ensure his vitality, his vestments were decorated with noise, bells and pomegranates and while their cacophony was heard his health was ensured. When they fell silent, the body of the High Priest was hauled by his rope girdle beneath the veil. A new High Priest would assume the role.
Several years ago I purchased two pomegranates at the local grocery store. They were as big as my fist and resembled the knots at the end of the girdle I wear with my alb. I ate one of the fruit, cutting it open and consuming the juice and the abundance of seeds that filled the hard shell. Small wonder that nature religions use the pomegranate as a symbol of fecundity! The other fruit I placed on a cupboard, to dry. It took almost three years to dry out! But when it did, I discovered a natural rattle. The rattle indicated activity, and when it fell silent, it indicated death.
Pomegranates fell silent, we would say, as Jesus entered the veil, robed in flesh, our great High Priest. And as High Priest who was at once Victim, the Veil of the Temple tore in two on the Friday as certainly as the Seal of the Sepulchre broke in half and fell away. These metaphorical signs of Sacrifice graciously invite us to draw closer, and to become companions. No longer satisfied with solitary austerity, Jesus opens the way for us to gain access to him and to the redemption that is held out to us and to God.
This year the Easter Pascha witness is common between West and East. Christendom divided at the Bosborous finds a rare symmetry as you read this column. Solar and Lunar witness join their voices:
O ye lights and orbs of heaven’s sky… bless ye the Lord!
In that chorus of praise and thanksgiving we each have a place, regardless of our tin ear or our perfect pitch. I know of no one whose voice cannot add to the harmony of redeemed creation. And for this choir, there is no audition.
Copyright © 2007 James T. Irvine
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Sr Julia writes [in her blog] from Florence, Italy, “We plan next to plant a pomegranate by Lord Leighton's tomb for Elizabeth Barrett Browning. And speaking of pomegranates and Easter do read The Highland Shepherd.”
The picture is linked to her Friends of God blogspot.