We Cannot Measure

How You Heal...

Good Friday - April 3, 2015  

12 noon - 3:00 p.m.

Christ Church (Parish) Church, Fredericton, N.B.


The Reverend Canon Jim Irvine,

Guest Homilist


We approach the Cross

From the sixth hour and lasting until the ninth hour, darkness enveloped the land.  Mark records the event and Matthew and Luke echo his account.  What shadows there were, were cast by the full moon of Nissan hanging in an eerily grey sky over Golgotha.  Crosses and Centurions were traced along a grey landscape and the movement of the curious and the faithful, the accusers and the doubters passed undetectable among the silhouettes painted against a steel sky.

And while crucifixions were being carried out on this dreadful Height, the Temple Mount – across a Valley and behind the City Wall – was busy with preparations for the Passover.

The scene is a contrast of realities that challenge our world view in the Twenty-first Century – grisly executions and grisly sacrifices – providing the locus of interpretation that has attempted to grasp some understanding of the Day… and of God.

We are familiar with the Gospel accounts and the story is not unknown to us.  We have been here before, many of us.  And should this be our first time to find ourselves lurking in the shadows, we are nonetheless acquainted with the story.  There are differences, of course, and in our minds we attempt to blend the details in order that some sense might be gained.

My suspicion is that while Golgotha is plunged into darkness, the heaviness of the dark that weighs in upon us is more metaphorical than actual.  Those preparing on the Temple Mount, slaughtering the lambs in preparation for the Feast may very well have been unaware of the threatening curtain that closed in on Golgotha.

The presence of Good and Evil collide in a dramatic way on this particular Day when Pilate was the Roman Governor.  The contrast was vivid: on the Temple Mount the traditional rites were observed and the detailed rehearsal of Deliverance of Moses out of captivity in Egypt was faithfully executed.  Religious piety was served and righteousness sought.  In sharp contrast to the liturgical vestments of the priests in the Temple, the uniforms of the Roman Occupational Force punctuated the vile hilltop where piety was absent and righteousness unknown.

In the midst of this the question is – then, as now – where was God?

The Evangelists’ account of Jesus’ Last Words serve to help us interpret the relationship between Deliverance and Redemption.  Some might rush to call this Salvation, but we need to be cautious.  While we may need to unpack words like Deliverance and Redemption, we are sufficiently numbed by the word, Salvation, so as not to feel an interpretation needs to be found.

When I was a boy, I had a favourite toy that I prized dearly.  I had been given a Kaleidoscope as a gift.  It was a popular toy over half a century ago.  It was made of two cardboard tubes, one fitting inside the other, with an eye piece allowing the toy to be looked through.  The other end of the cylinder was opaque and allowed light to enter the chamber.  Held by both hands, one tube could be rotated while the other tube remained stationery.  Inside the cylinder shards of coloured glass fell by gravity, prisms catching the coloured images and presented patterns that would continually change.  No pattern was ever repeated – every pattern was new and unique.  It was a wonderful toy and it gave me hours of fascinating delight.

The image of the Kaleidoscope helps me return today with the Words of Jesus our focus, just as coloured glass shards fall against prisms and familiar words are heard afresh.  The light is the referential light of a Passover Moon but it is sufficient to see things again, and as for the first time. 

The prism I am using today is a Hymn in Common PraiseWe Cannot Measure How You Heal.  It was penned by John L. Bell.  It is a hymn my daughter, Deborah, brought to my attention shortly after the new hymn book was authorized by our National Church.  It spoke to her over a decade ago – may it help give us voice today.

The shards of coloured glass are provided by Dietrich Bonhoeffer – the Lutheran Pastor executed in Flossenbürg Concentration Camp a month before I was born.  Bonhoeffer penned these words: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless.  Not to speak, is to speak.  Not to act, is to act.” 

The pacifist co-conspirator in the assassination attempt of Adolph Hitler did not remain silent and his actions led him to the gallows seventy years ago.  As he approached his execution, he penned these words, “What might surprise or perhaps even worry you would be my theological thoughts and where they are leading, and here is where I really miss you very much … What keeps gnawing at me is the question, What is Christianity, or who is Christ actually for us today?  The age when we could tell people that with words – whether with theological words or pious words – is past, as is the age of inwardness and conscience, and that means the age of religion altogether.”

Where do we find God?  Who is Christ actually?  Words are spoken – at least they are recorded – and the pattern of the broken silence is heard by some who have come in need of Jesus’ help, while some have come to make amends. 

The Epistle of the Hebrews read on the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple as he achieved 40 days following the Levitical directive will provide us with a foundation for our time together today:

Hebrews 2: “Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.  For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham.  Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people.  Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested. ”


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2004 Emily Dickinson and Jesus’ Last Words

2009 Modesty Woven by Prayer

2010 I Will Sing as I Journey

2011 Come and Follow Me

2012 Holy is the Name I Know

2013 Let Streams of Living Justice

2014 The Folly of God


Ashes to Easter

Highland Shepherd Resources