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

 

As long as I live, Jesus, make me your servant,
To carry your cross and to share all your burdens and tears;
My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?

 

I can hardly imagine the anguish of homesickness.  A sense of abandonment can overwhelm even the most independent of us.  The feeling goes beyond loneliness and stirs deep within.  Anxiety wells up both to our own surprise as well as the surprise of others.

Jesus, for all his resolve to turn his face towards Jerusalem found himself in this world of uncertainty.  “Why have you forsaken me?” he asks to the air around him.  He was not alone on this hill top.  Others shared his fate.  It was the feeling of abandonment that covered him in waves.

Confident that he was about his Father’s business, there was no hint of Jesus feeling abandoned when Mary and Joseph left him behind in Jerusalem as a youth.  That confidence continued in life and even when he was in the wilderness – and all alone – following his baptism.  He never felt abandoned.  The Gospel accounts give ample evidence of Jesus’ sense of well-being and he speaks confidently of his public ministry that made up so much of his journey.

In moments of lucidity he cast his face toward the darkened, oppressive sky.  His gaze tried to penetrate the terror and confusion that filled the air.  His fears found prayerful expression the night before in the Garden.  His fear returned in his sense of abandonment.  Fear built on fear and in desperation those nearby caught a sound… perhaps his voice, shallow and thin… perhaps the wind.  “Why have you forsaken me…?”

Those that heard it, shook it off.  It was the wind, some thought.

Nearly four decades have passed since I visited Jack.  Stricken with Alzheimer’s disease, this Christian gentleman was committed to the Provincial Hospital in Saint John.  No longer able to live with his wife of over forty years, Jack required the sort of attention that was only to be found in a locked ward.

In earlier days Jack had been an astute professional with a wonderful wit and disarming charm.  As his dementia progressed he began to lose his faculties, in small ways in the beginning, but in more serious ways as the disease advanced.  He got so that his wife could no longer care for him and she became a stranger to him.

In Easter week I arranged to pick up his wife so that I might give them both Communion, as I regularly did on Sundays before his committal.  Led to the locked ward, the grey painted brick hallway echoed as the attendant knocked on the metal door of the ward.  Unlocked from inside by another attendant, the door was opened to allow our entry.  We were in a desolate place. Patients scuffed across the floor in aimless directions, never alighting on a chair, never stopping to look out a window.  Standing in their midst was Jack.

We were taken to Jack and while introductions were made, as they had been in the past, no sense of recognition passed across Jack’s face.  His affect did not hint at even the slightest recollection of a memory of his wife – or me.  As always, he was amiable and accompanied us to a side room where the attendant had arranged chairs and a small table.

As I busied myself setting up the Communion vessels, Jack’s wife tried to make conversation with her husband, admiring his hair, commenting on how good he looked that day, observing how spring had finally begun, and almost in desperation, how the weather was that afternoon.

The brief Communion Service began and I was surprised how lucid Jack became, at least for the moment.  He followed the prayers and knew when to make the appropriate responses.  He joined us in the General Confession as well as the Prayer of Humble Access – prayers he would have known from his youth.  He received the Sacrament reverently and as he did, his wife looked on him with pride and admiration.

As I pronounced the Benediction, Jack clasped his hands by his knees as he sat in his chair and said, “Amen!”  And as he did, he lapsed into the inner terrors of his abandonment and we beheld Jack as we had met him a half hour earlier.

The metal door clanked shut behind us as we left the Ward and I took a moment to look back – through the small glass window in the door, reinforced with wire mesh.  I saw Jack standing in the midst of a sea of agony and confusion.  He looked at me.  And I am sure I heard Jesus’ words – if not uttered on the heights of Golgotha then in the locked Ward I had just visited: “Why have you forsaken me?”

As long as I live, Jesus, make me your servant,

To carry your cross and to share all your burdens and tears…

 

I am thirsty.