Modesty Woven by Prayer
Meditations on Jesus’ Last Words from the Cross
Canon Jim Irvine
Good Friday, April 10, 2009 - Noon - 3:00 p.m.
Christ Church (Parish) Church - Fredericton, New Brunswick
Father, forgive them for
Luke 23: 33-34
Luke 23: 39-43
John: 19: 26-27
Mark: 15: 33-34 and Matthew: 27: 46
John: 19: 28-29
John: 19: 30
Luke 23: 44-46
Now I lay me
The White Crucifixion (detail)
I pray the Spirit my soul to take…
Luke 23: 33-34
holy and mighty,
holy immortal one,
have mercy upon us.
Now I lay me
down to sleep
and if I die
before I wake
The heights of Golgotha invite the wind, and as the sky darkened – or was it man’s vision – crosses were illumined in the referred light of a Paschal Moon. Across the hill top silhouettes stood out against an ashen sky and people could be seen darting amongst the confusion and pain.
Cries of agony punctuated the dark and words as well: words of obscenities and words pleading for mercy. The wind swept words across this profane mountain like a brush carries paint across a canvas. The felons seemed to speak as one to the ear of the Centuries standing guard. The careful ear might discern a coherent phrase; perhaps it was simply the wind.
Near the cross bearing Yeshua, the convicted felon with a superscription posted above his head, a Century may have taken pause early in the darkness. “Father forgive them,” a voice was heard to utter. “For they know not what they are doing.” Listening carefully, and tilting his head, the Century listened for more. As the Tallith whipped in the air, the guard shrugged and shifted his weight from one foot to the other. It was the wind. It must have been the wind, he thought.
While Luke places the words on Jesus’ lips, Luke was not a witness. Better understood, Luke knew the character of Jesus sufficiently to know that the words would not be foreign to him. But as much as absolution was not outside Jesus’ sphere of ministry from the time of his Baptism in the Jordan by John, his turn of phrase in this instance is disturbing.
In the past, Jesus engaged all sorts and conditions of men and women and did not shrink from announcing to them that their sins were forgiven. It had both brought relief to the broken and enraged the authorities. No one can forgive sins save God, they held, and their accusative stares and outstretched arms and pointing fingers served to punctuate the point.
Jesus, in this instance withheld his absolution and referred the responsibility to the Father. It may even have been uttered between clenched teeth. Possibly it may not have been borne on the air at all. But in its sentiment, Luke shows how close Jesus has come to our humanity.
Racing to protest this scandalous likelihood, we deny Jesus having come close to us and struggle to keep him ever at a safe distance, even on Golgotha. We fail to listen to his prayer of supplication. This afternoon, ours is a time for listening and silence. Not when we speak to victims but when we listen to their testimony do we truly perceive the cross, the cross that breaks our moral certainties and shatters our continuities of power. We cannot give our victims the cross, for they are already its true bearers.
In the world of victims, our language of victory – the language of redemption – may alienate, echoing only the speech of oppressors.
Who among us has not withheld our forgiveness when our pain has been too great? “God will have to forgive you,” we hear ourselves saying, “I cannot – I will not”. Our forgiveness has by times been deferred, and to learn that Jesus enters into that secret dark place in our lives is something we need to learn.
When we approach the cross with too much faith; when we stand in its shadow with certain confidence of Easter light, is finally to confront no cross at all, only the unrepentant echoes of our religious noise.
In the darkness of the day – relying only on the Paschal Moon beams to keep us from stumbling – we discover the mystery of God so that we may not reduce Him to an object we might reverence. In this profane dark place – the Place of the Skull – all of creation finds itself on the threshold of redemption. Yom Kippur bears the name: the Day of Atonement, the day in which the people of Israel are to be judged by God and the sins of the nation of Israel are atoned. The Day of Atonement is also known as “the Day of Redemption.” This day pictures the transference of sin. It is a time of fasting, cleansing, and reflection which is to be observed once a year. Time is compressed and we stand in judgement and find ourselves atoned.
In the darkness, the church must stand as if before Easter.
Midi: Schindler’s List