I Will Sing As I Journey

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Christ Church (Parish) Church, Fredericton

 

Canon Jim Irvine

Three Hour Watch By The Cross · Good Friday · April 2, 2010

Christ Church (Parish) Church, Fredericton. New Brunswick

 

You alone give us life, give us peace, give us love.
Lord Jesus, of you I will sing as I journey.

Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing. 

 

Jesus’ procession to Golgotha has many depictions.  Father Seiger Köder in a tableau entitled Unison, pictures Jesus struggling under the weight of his cross beam, and with him on either side, others bearing the weight of their cross beams.  These men were on the final leg of a journey that had begun at various corners of the Empire.  Unsavoury characters, thieves and murderers, terrorists and highwaymen joined ranks and the Palestinian dust under their feet rose in the air as they advanced.  Jesus was numbered among them.  Jesus’ place was not simply found in that Day or on that Hill but among those men, the refuse of society.  In Unison with them, he carried the weight of the price of life and peace and love. 

Placed on the cross beam, Jesus’ arms were pinned to the rough wood.  Others’ cries of pain drown out all pleas for mercy and vain claims of innocence.  Vile blasphemies fill the air from the lips of men sentenced to death as well as the Roman soldiers.  The God of Israel and the gods of Rome are invoked in Hebrew and Aramaic and Latin.

In the very midst of that cacophony I am sure was heard, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.”  In the confusion it was quickly lost.  The soldier wielding the hammer may have caught it.  Another holding the iron spike may have heard it.  Perhaps, as a soldier’s ear came close to Jesus’ lips – as they hoisted the cross beam to the post anchored in the hard ground of Golgotha – the words were caught.

Some years ago, I had the privilege of assisting Archdeacon Harry Quinn in the Chaplaincy at Ridgewood Veterans’ Wing in South Bay – on the West Side of Saint John.   One week a month I would cover for him and extend pastoral care to the men who served in the Great Wars of the last century.  Residents came to live at the Veterans’ Wing when they could no longer make it on their own.  Some suffered from physical disability as amputees while others were less obvious in their disability.  All were scared.

On Tuesday evenings, after supper, a Service was held in the Craft Room and five or six ladies of the Church of the Good Shepherd provided a choir.  They had faithfully done so for nearly four decades.  Having begun as young women, they knew the residents well, and by name.

The Holy Communion was celebrated on alternating Tuesdays and when it was the attendance at the Service was always higher.  As Anglican priests, Harry and I presided with the Book of Common Prayer.  Residents filled the Craft Room.  The staff would bring the wheel chair residents in and placed them around the walls of the room.  There were some who could not be brought to the Service. In those cases we would take the Sacrament to the residents in their rooms.  After communicating those in the Craft Room, a chorister would join me and carry the Chalice as we made a tour of the rooms. The choir and residents continued to sing until our return.

In the dusk of an early April evening I remember entering Fred’s room.  Fred was in his late nineties and a faithful Baptist who never missed the evening Service – and never missed making his Communion.  I had not taken Communion to Fred in his room before.  It was out of character for Fred to be absent in the Craft Room.  Perhaps Fred was ill.

As I entered his room Fred was lying on his side, facing the window by his bed.  A thin blanket – too short for his height – covered him from his ankles to his shoulder.  His left hand, fingers long and bony, held the edge of the blanket at his shoulder and as I walked around the end of his bed I saw that he was gazing out the window into the early spring sky of evening.

I greeted him, and he recognized me and called me by name without moving on his bed.  “I have brought you Communion, Fred,” I said, leaning over him with my left hand on his shoulder and speaking directly into his ear.

“I cannot take it tonight… or ever again,” Fred replied.  “My family was in earlier today.  They told me that they would not come to visit me again if I were to take Communion from you.”  A tear escaped an eye and ran down to his pillow that was already moistened.

As Fred looked at me and then past me into the impenetrable sky that Jesus looked into, I am sure I heard familiar words, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.”

I nodded my head in understanding.  Transferring the Paten to the night table I knelt and asked if I could then give him a blessing.  Fred nodded in silence and closed his eyes as I reached out my arm and placed my hand on his head and blessed him.

Jesus, you alone give us life give us peace, give us love.

Lord Jesus, of you I will sing as I journey.

 

Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.