Holy is the Name I know

Good Friday, April 6, 2012 - Christ Church (Parish) Church - Fredericton, New Brunswick

 

The Reverend Anthony Kwaw, Rector of Fredericton

The Reverend Canon Jim Irvine, Guest Homilist

 

« We approach the Cross

« Forgive them

« You will be with me

 

Christ Church (Parish) Church, FrederictonThe prospect of dying alone is a primal fear that cripples each of us.  We find the fear cast on Golgotha with the thief asking to be remembered.  We dread our death and we do not want to be forgotten.  The unknown felon is closer to us than we might like.  .

The evangelist narrows the cameo exchange and implies that while someone wins, another loses.  We are left with the good thief – bad thief conundrum and a callous fatalism ensues.  We begin to displace Jesus and hold that his largess is wholly dependant on our initiative, our effort.

But forasmuch as the conversation among the three is familiar, we need to hear again what Jesus says in the midst of this terrifying scene.  We are accustomed to the images provided by greeting card publishers where silhouetted against a crimson sky stand three bare crosses.  The image is misleading.

The threat of God’s condemnation was sobering to any Jew crucified by the Imperial authority.  Beyond the sentence of death that the felon may deserve at the hands of the occupying Legions was the irredeemable prospect of nihilism that faced each one.  Remember me… is a request beyond our death and Jesus’ response is clear in our hearing… You will be with me.

We jump to Paradise, thinking that Jesus’ assurances of Paradise calms the troubled spirit.  And jumping to Paradise we begin to interpret Jesus’ words of consolation as a reward: a reward for one, and a withholding from another.  We begin to move in a direction where forgiveness and our salvation is determined not by God’s grace but by some other criterion.

Let us not forget where Jesus has placed himself for this exchange.  For all of the pleas for mercy spoken, for all of the insults hurtled at the Roman Centuries standing guard among the countless crosses bearing the naked bodies of bloodied men, for all of the invectives and amid the sobbing of lives poured out in the stench of such a terrible place, Jesus’ words bring good news… You will be with me.

The good shepherd having sought after the lost sheep knew where to find them.  The bleating on Golgotha was heard by Jesus as the sheep in turn heard… You will be with me.

In our arrogance we trust that Jesus is with us…. And that he will continue with us. It is as if we want him to be with us in our various excursions.  As long as he is with us we are free to do as we please.  It is enough to have Jesus tag along and put up with whatever happenstance may confront us. If bad things come our way, we are relieved since he is with us; and if nothing bad comes our way, then it’s still okay – it’s always good to have a friend along for the walk.  Our hubris gets in the way.  And our hubris threatens our hearing.

You will be with me… Jesus says – on Golgotha and here today.  Sheep lost are found and rescued and brought back – on Golgotha as here today.  Jesus’ words bring assurance of restoration.  He meets us precisely where we are – as he found himself on Golgotha – but he doesn’t stay where he finds us nor does he leave us where he finds us.

As surely as Jesus called James and John from their nets by inviting them to follow him, so he calls a felon to be with him and dispels to dread of annihilation.

John Shelby Spong, former Episcopal Bishop of Newark in an interview published in the Anglican Journal asked the question if we could think of anyone for whom Jesus did not die.  It was an annoying question.  In asking the question he confronted face-on the question for which Thief did Jesus intend forgiveness?  In asking the question he challenges each of us to reacquaint ourselves with the terrifying good news of God’s redemption.  Some of you may have heard the Bishop speak but when he has been in New Brunswick he has come as a guest of Wilmot United Church.

In the midst of the turmoil that engulfs us in dark thoughts, in bouts of depression, in periods of worry and anxiety we begin to doubt Jesus’ capacity to embrace us and hold us tight.  We need to hear that we will be with him… and that he will lead us to places where we cannot climb on our own.  He will seek us out and challenge our doubt, lest we think that his capacity for love somehow does not, cannot extend to such as me… to such as thee.

The course that Jesus sets leads to a Kingdom.  Raising us up out of the depth of despair and loneliness, lifting us and holding us in his arms, arms that are outstretched on a cross, we find ourselves embraced in a love foreign on Golgotha and foreign perhaps in our experience as well.  Jesus’ love is not an indulgence tolerating our current amusement.  You will be with me.

And wherever that place may be, but whatever name you might want to localize where you are, you may call it Paradise.   Such was my epiphany ten years ago when I was in the Coronary Care Unit in the local hospital.  I can’t say I long for Heaven, nor am I fearful of Hell.  Jesus’ words were clearly heard in my room where I lay alone, amongst monitors and the quiet that typifies the valley of the shadow of death at two o’clock in the morning.  I don’t know what he said; but I know what I heard: You will be with me…

Who can tell how many crosses…

still to come, or long ago…

Crucify the King of Heaven…

Holy is the Name I know.

 

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« Why?

« I thirst

« Finished!

« Into your hands

 

« Every Star Shall Sing a Carol

 

 

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