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,
The shards of coloured glass in my Kaleidoscope held me spell-bound in my youth. I was fascinated that the same pieces could provide so many unpredictable combinations. I added nothing. I took nothing away. Curiosity did not prompt me to take the toy apart. It remained in tact. The only thing I did was to rotate the interlocking cylinders, allowing the prisms inside to present new and exciting patterns.
Our yearly visitation to the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ last hours are much the same. The words never change and yet each year we hear something fresh. It is as though our prisms refract the illumination on familiar phrases, allowing them to be heard again – for the first time.
The Gospels remain the same. The Words of Jesus remain unchanged. You and I are the interpretive variant from one year to the next. You and I are different for the year that has transpired since we last gathered in these shadows.
The Letter to the Hebrews recognized that – “Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.” Bell, in our Theme hymn recognizes that some have come who need his help, while other have come to make amends. Whatever our motivation, we bring fresh ears to the Day and strain to hear good news, encouraging news in the midst of what tests us.
There were no good thieves on Golgotha. This was a refuge for wicked men and we would have avoided lurking among the shadows in their presence. I suspect that we would have felt better in the company of those who were on the Temple Mount, busying themselves with the preparations requisite for the Feast. Better, many would say, to commemorate past Redemption and embrace a historical reality that tradition sustained for centuries. Looking at the confusion reigning on Golgotha was unattractive. Confusion cloaked the Redemption being wrought on an anvil of Forgiveness.
We are alarmed that Jesus took his place amongst the refuse of society and that his last Words were spoken among them – men who were being sorely tested to their very end. “You will be with me,” Jesus assured one. Who is this man? He wears no cliché on his arm. Stained glass halos are nowhere to be seen. A crown of ridicule surrounds his head, no emblem of power, legitimacy, victory or triumph – thorns pierced his brow. His reign was amongst those who looked for him least and needed him most.
The encouraging words of Jesus expressed to a thief whose name we do not know were heard earlier in the ministry of the Nazarene following his Baptism by John. He invited men to join him – and women too – and in company with them a pattern of restorative compassion and mercy became more and more clear. Certainly it became most clear to those who knew their need of his healing touch… sufferers whose prayers did not go unheard.
Jesus called James and John, Simon and Andrew, and others as well. He graciously invited them to accompany him… to leave all behind and set their face with him, on a path where God’s will would be reflected in the things they said and the things they did. Bonhoeffer recognized this – “Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
What James and John did, they did in company with Jesus. What Simon and Andrew said, they said in company with Jesus. Why should we think the calling of a felon on Golgotha any different? Why should we think his calling of you and of me today any differently as well?
Our Vocation is not limited to the pattern of established Holy Orders.
Beginning with the vows of our Baptism, we set one foot in front of another along a Journey of Faith that has led us to the Nave of this Parish Church this afternoon. We may be less conscious of his presence, and many of us may need to be reminded of it, but we have not come this way alone. Nor have we come this far alone.
Our Journey – the daily excursions we take by the grace of God – leads us beyond the moment of our Baptism on a path that cannot easily be measured.
Jesus’ measure goes beyond the length of days we have been in company with him. His scales weigh the fear of our abandonment and isolation. His restorative justice allows for new beginnings, each in turn, and each in our own way as we keep pace.
No reward is implied here. The initiative is Jesus’ initiative and always is. He reaches out to us with an arm we cannot readily measure. Suffice it to say that his arm is long enough… and that his capacity and intent – demonstrated throughout his ministry from when he stepped out of the Jordan River – his capacity and intent extends a hand that holds and heals and warns and carries all through death and life.
I became most acutely aware of his gracious assurance when I had my heart attack, now almost thirteen years ago. In the early hours of each day I would lie on my bed in the CCU of the Dr. Everett Chalmers Hospital and watch the pulsing blips on the monitors anchoring me to a sleepless night. Measurements were everywhere. The nurses at the Station paid close attention to the measurements and recorded them to inform the doctors when they made their rounds. What wasn't recorded, what wasn’t easily measured was the presence of Jesus who kept me company in the ambient darkness… highly technical but not entirely unlike the heights of Golgotha. It was there that Epiphany came early as I discovered the fresh hearing of a familiar Psalm – “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.”
Darkest Valley or darkest Hill Top – you are with me.
2011 Come and Follow Me
2014 The Folly of God