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



From the beginning, the good news of the Gospel focuses on Forgiveness.  The first of the Last Words focuses on Forgiveness and throughout his ministry Jesus makes it clear that the theme of Forgiveness reflects the expectation of God.

Few of us would be unfamiliar with the oft quoted words of John's Gospel, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” We recite Jesus' words to Nicodemus often.  But while we are familiar with the sixteenth verse of John’s Gospel, seldom do we include the seventeenth verse, “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”  Condemnation is not the objective of God; there is no Hope in Condemnation.

The Sacrament of Penance presents Forgiveness in a healing light.  Penance is included in the Ministry to the Sick in the 1962 Book of Common Prayer.  Absolution is a component of Penance and secures a restorative healing that challenges our sceptical understanding of misplaced Confession.

Forgiveness is something all yearn for and yet remains a commodity we are reluctant to give freely to others.  Our experience with Forgiveness is like a fiction, too good to be true.  Oh, something Jesus may well express in the oppressive gloom of Golgotha, but then, we rush to say – or at least think – it was easier for him.  After all, considering who his is, we couldn’t expect less.

But our measurement of the scene fails to weigh Bonhoeffer’s question.  The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews helps our understanding…  “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.” 

Jesus’ humanity found him drawing close to our experience so that, as the writer clearly says, he might destroy the one who has the power of death.  The battle is waged on Golgotha and the first salvo is Forgiveness.

The first arrow placed in a priest’s quiver is Forgiveness.

Forty-three years ago I knelt before Harold Nutter on the chancel step of our Cathedral.  On a Saturday morning – the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist – I felt the weight of his hands and the hands of priests standing at the chancel step joining him – as the words of Ordination were recited: “Receive the Holy Ghost for the office and work of a Priest in the Church of God, now committed unto thee by the imposition of our hands.  Whose sins thou dost forgive, they are forgiven; and whose sins those dost retain, they are retained.”  Before even the dispensing of the Word of God and even of the holy Sacraments, Forgiveness is primary.

Not because the Anglican Ordinal makes it so.  The words spoken by the Bishop have been echoed down throughout the generations of Christian witness, having first been spoken by Jesus in an Upper Room in the Holy City when he met with his disciples following his Resurrection.

Jesus was no stranger to Forgiveness.  He taught his followers about it and when he engaged others he made Forgiveness a reality for them. 

He included it as part of the Family Prayer we know by heart and from our youth… “Forgive us our sins,” we say, “as we forgive those that sin against us.”  Forgiveness has a reciprocity that benefits not only the beneficiary but benefits us as well.

But in our world view our calculus is left wanting.

In Matthew’s record, Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.”

I suspect some have already begun to calculate and make a mental note.  It is difficult enough to keep account of seven separate occasions of Absolution; but Jesus goes beyond the letter of the Law and extends the number to seventy-seven times.  It’s a large number, and it may take extraordinary concentration, but many of us would make every effort to keep score.

But Jesus’ grace responds where faith and doubt unite to care.  His hands – bloodied on the Cross – are hands that survive to hold and heal and warn.

Our means of measurement falls short.

We can measure so much more today, and with alarming precision, and in so many aspects of our lives.  Time was when measurement was a simple thing – we could measure the height and width and length so long as we had a graded rule to guide us.  We can measure time with confidence and while we do not know the number of our days, we can reasonably schedule our lives at least in the short term.

Now we can by a prick of a finger, determine our glucose levels and with a cuff our blood pressure limits no longer remain unknown to us.  While the technology is beyond our domestic routine, blood tests regularly measure and reveal more about us than we might perhaps wish.  And stepping on imposing scales in a clinic will reveal the pull of gravity we might prefer to be kept secret.

But beyond our metrics is the capacity of Jesus’ healing.  He measures a depth that he can plumb and knows the heaviness of our hearts.  His measurement takes account of a conscience weighed with worry and fear and meets guilt with Absolution.

With me...

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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


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