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


I thirst

In our beginnings we find our endings, and this is expressed so well with the Lectionary selection of the Letter to the Hebrews on the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple.  The Gospel appointed for the occasion bears witness to the veracity that Joseph and Mary brought their son up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.  They were faithful to the law of Moses, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”, and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”  Born under the Law, the one whose feet would carry him to Golgotha was himself redeemed. 

The significance of their faithfulness to the pattern laid down by Moses found an interpretation of the events of this Dark Day that sustains us.

Jesus 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.

The relentless pain that would not go away demonstrates how close to our circumstance Jesus drew, finding expression by John’s witness: Jesus said, “I thirst.”

Not a particular pain and one that most of us would hardly notice.  You and I take for granted so much as our days unfold.  The abundance that is within our reach quickly meets any appetite.  Delayed gratification is unknown in our experience.  Any taste is met… any thirst is quenched.

I need to turn back the pages of time to the days of my youth in order to even begin to understand what Jesus meant when he was moved to express, “I thirst.” 

As a young boy my thirst seldom went unaddressed.  A glass by the sink was readily accessible.  When my legs were short, I might have to slide a kitchen chair to the counter and I might need to strain to reach the tap.  But water was within my grasp.  The sole exception was when I climbed into my youth bed, my night time prayers said, and, once under the blanket I made my need known to one of my parents, my Mum or my Dad.  Perhaps more a pattern, a ritual preparing me for sleep than discovering a thirst that needed relief, I would telegraph my thirst: “I need a glass of water.” I was thirsty.  I let my parents know.

On the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles – commemorating the Israelites wandering in the desert – John records that Jesus stood in the Temple by amphora brimming with water and cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink.”

Amongst the throngs of pilgrims observing the Festival, many would hear his words and understand them to rehearse the story familiar to the assembly, of Moses and the disgruntled community parched for lack of water.  John does not even suggest that anyone who heard Jesus had any thirst.  He does not record that any responded to his invitation and approached him to quench their thirst.  For his invitation, and for the abundant supply of water at hand, the story is without any response on the part of the men celebrating the occasion.

The interpretive side comment penned by the Evangelist – that Jesus was referring to the Spirit of God that would well up like an artesian well from deep within – prefigured the Promise of the father that would come later.  Jesus made no mention of this and John’s observation is an interpretation that helps us understand what Jesus is about.

Sufficient to say: we need to know our own thirst; and we need then, to drink.

But there was a day when thirst made great demands.

Moses and the Israelites arrived at the Desert of Zin, and they stayed at Kadesh. For lack of water for the community, the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron. They quarrelled with Moses and said, “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the Lord!  Why did you bring the Lord’s community into this wilderness, that we and our livestock should die here? Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!”

The Lord said to Moses, “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.” So Moses took the staff from the Lord’s presence, just as he commanded him. He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?”

Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.  These were the waters of Meribah, where the Israelites quarrelled with the Lord and where he was proved holy among them.

The waters of Meribah prefigure the amphora in the Temple.  As thirst and their dependence on God was demonstrated in Moses’ account, the memory of God’s deliverance had been transformed into a commemoration that no longer knew the pain of thirst… it had gone away.

The New Moshe – Jesus – recalls the occasion and no thirst is evident.  Quarrelling has given way to liturgical form and only shadows of a memory play out in the Temple. 

From the Cross, thirst is found again and in its expression Jesus stands with those in the Wilderness of Zin who knew their thirst and their need.


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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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