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

 

Lord Jesus, I’ll praise you as long as I journey.
May all of my joy be a faithful reflection of you.
Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.

 

The din of Golgotha was confusion enough.  Only on prosaic Easter cards is the hill top so thinly populated by crosses.  The sentenced were there, of course, as were the men that were required to carry out the sentences – the Centuries who had to keep order, such as it was.  Those attracted by public executions ventured out, as they have in every generation.  And then there were others whose presence was demanded by their insistence that the sentence was carried out.  Jesus’ accusers would have been numbered among them.

Least of all there would have been disciples.  Peter had been accused as being an associate of the Nazarene.  Worse, he was suspected as being a Galilean.  Fear made them cautious.

Witnesses would have found the evangelists by a referential route.  And what was reported as having been said would have been reported with a grain of salt and probably not much more.  Certainly comprehension would have been scarce.  And the greater our distance from the Place of the Skull, the greater our claim that these attributed words are true.

We are confident that Jesus conveyed words of assurance to a man crucified near by.  From what we know the man nearby was close to death, perhaps closer to death than he was to Jesus.  And all the men were going to die.

“You will be with me in Paradise,” Jesus told him.  Not as some unmerited reward for his crimes.  Neither does Jesus absolve him as he did so many times before in the Gospels where forgiveness is never implied.  In this instance Jesus’ voice born on the wind is carried to another’s ear and in the darkened afternoon hope is expressed… not of the geography of heaven but of the torment of the moment: “You will be with me … I will be with you.”  You are not alone.  As abandoned as you may feel from family, friends and colleagues, I am with you and you are not alone.

Almost two decades ago I was called to the Regional Hospital in Saint John to the bedside of a friend and former parishioner who had asked for me.  John had been 57 when he came to me for catechesis.  He had undertaken his spiritual formation as seriously as he had his career as a policeman and Staff Sergeant.  John had an uncomplicated faith and recognized the need to read the Scriptures and attend the Eucharist.  Shortly after his Confirmation I was stopped by his wife in a local nursing home where she was on staff.  She asked what I had done to her dear John.  When he is through with his soup and sandwich at lunch he goes into the living room and reads his Bible, she told me.  She was not complaining, she went on to add.  It’s just that John had changed.  He had been transformed.  And the change had been for the better.  

John’s wife predeceased him by several years and he had no family except for a sister.  His sister had called me and asked me to visit John.

As I entered his room, John asked if I remembered to bring the Oils.  I assured him that I had.  His voice was harsh and I learned that he had oesophageal cancer.  I encouraged him not to speak, but that we would have Communion and that I would anoint him with the Oil I brought with me.  And that I would sit and visit.  He made a suitable gruff response and went and sat on the side of his bed.

I opened my Communion Box and set out the Cross and Candles and the Chalice and Paten.  I placed the Oil Stock next to the Chalice.  The prayers we would say together he mimed with his lips, his mouth dry and throat raw.  I placed a portion of a host on the Communion Spoon having first dipped the Spoon in the Cup.  He took the Sacrament reverently and said something appropriate like, “Thank you Lord” as I communicated myself.

I then moistened my thumb in the cotton wad in the Oil Stock and touched his forehead.  As I outlined the Cross that had been placed there years before by Canon Ed Lane I gave voice to a prayer of blessing… and healing.

As I put the utensils back in the Box John raised his legs and positioned himself in bed.  He sat, a pillow supporting his head.

I took a seat, beside his bed.  John’s arms lay beside him and he rested as I placed my left hand on top of his.  While John sat there serene and at the threshold of death I am sure Jesus’ words sounded in that room… “Today you will be with me … I will be with you.”

Three days later it was my privilege to preside at John’s requiem mass.

Lord Jesus, I’ll praise you as long as I journey.

May all of my joy be a faithful reflection of you.

 

Woman, here is your son! ... Here is your mother!