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Good Friday 2013
Christ Church (Parish) Church
Fredericton, New Brunswick
March 29, 2013 12 Noon - 3:00 p.m.
The Reverend Anthony Kwaw
Rector of Fredericton
The Reverend Canon Jim Irvine
You will be with me
The sequence of the last word’s attributed to our Lord on this day of all days is a matter of tradition, of established custom. The story of the day continues to be narrated by Luke in his evangelical witness.
Luke 23: 39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
The scene presents itself almost as a parable, excepting that in this case we know one of the felons is Jesus. He alone is identified. While we know one of the three, the remaining two are unknown to us. In that aspect the story begins to take on the character of a parable. The story allows us to identify with either of the two thieves.
For myself, I fancied myself as the good thief. And I suspect that you may have been tempted to follow my practice. I felt uncomfortable identifying with the bad thief. You may have felt that way yourself, thinking that Jesus would have a natural preference for anyone who is good – whether he be a thief or not.
But my suspicion is that all to often I have taken the role of the bad thief, sarcasm and rebuke being companions that give me no cause for pride. Whether addressed to Jesus or someone I know better, sarcasm and rebuke reflects the current age. Sarcasm and rebuke have found champions in every generation.
“We have been condemned justly,” the good thief reminds the bad thief. The justice meted out to the felons was appropriate. It was a consequence that fit a crime. Scales were balanced. The statutes were met. The injustice was that Jesus would suffer the same fate – as he had done nothing wrong.
I appreciate Jesus’ reply, and like to play with the ambiguity of his comment: “You will be with me.” Some naturally hear him addressing the good thief, but I like to think that he is addressing all who hear his words of hope. The evangelical hope is that Jesus assures those that hear him that he will not be alone, and neither will they.
I think one of the most terrifying realities in a person’s life is the realization that they are alone. Many live alone. Many dine alone. Many sleep alone. And far to many die alone. The dreaded disappearance of family and friend penned by Father Whitla is in response to the events of Tiananmen Square. The historic record is part of our living memory and the injustices of that day are vivid in the memories of many of us today. Many were arrested alone. Many were tried alone. Many were jailed alone. And their disappearance as sons and daughters and friends caused great anguish.
The torture and the silence: the fear that knows no end is common to both the common criminals crucified on Golgotha with Jesus and to the demonstrator on the parade ground facing down a tank. The lyric spans the ages and even comes close to us, if we allow it.
The sense of abandonment causes anxiety regardless of age. I have ministered to parishioners approaching death and their angst is palpable. The assurance of a presence along side provides great solace. The Sacrament of the Eucharist provides such an assurance. The table fellowship of Maundy Thursday night enabled the disciples to endure the unfolding drama of redemption that carried them through the events of the following day. The companionship Jesus provided at Emmaus buoyed up the faith of the bereaved disciples that asked him to stay with them for the evening meal. Continuing today we find ourselves shoulder to shoulder at a rail – never alone – with Jesus.
The Psalmist recognized this. In the twenty-third Psalm we are reminded that “even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff – they comfort me.”
Jesus assures us that we will be with him. We have no cause to fear evil. The journey we walk is a path that will be in the company of the Good Shepherd – the Bishop and Shepherd of our souls – and with him we will walk through the darkest valley.
Our challenge, if we allow it, is to recognize that Jesus assures us that we will be with him – he will lead the way; that where he is, there we will be also. And second, that his assurance is not a reward for anything that we might claim to have done that is in any way deserving in our lives, but that is the loving redemptive initiative of a Shepherd who knows our need.
For all of our shortcomings Jesus assures us his intention is that we will be with him. We need not posture and call out, “Pick me! Pick me!” He does not intend to abandon one. With ninety-and-nine safe, he goes into the darkest valley looking for the one who is alone, bleating, afraid, trembling.
The New Covenant with such extraordinary good news ironically is cut not on the altar of the Temple in this Passover Festival where lambs are put under the knife and an Exodus is remembered. No, the New Covenant is established on a height outside the City wall in the midst of the refuse of humanity.
And to that reality operative in our lives we cannot help respond with immense thanksgiving, Lord, have mercy upon us; Christ, have mercy upon us; Lord, have mercy upon us.
2011 Come and Follow Me