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
Luke 23: 33-34
Truly I tell you, today you
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 to
show the way…
Luke 23: 39-43
holy and mighty,
holy immortal one,
have mercy upon us.
Now I lay me
down to sleep
but if I
wake for one more day
Jesus had set his face towards Jerusalem. His final pilgrimage was taken in the company of his disciples. Others would have joined them as they drew closer to the City. In this season, all roads lead to Jerusalem.
The Pilgrimage Festivals – Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles – are times of obligation when the Israelites living in ancient Israel and Judea would journey to Jerusalem, as commanded by the Torah. In Jerusalem, they would participate in festivities and ritual worship in conjunction with the services of the priests at the Temple in Jerusalem.
The devout watched the phases of the moon and knew when to begin their journey to arrive in time at the Temple. Along with the devout, others less pious joined the procession. Festivals draw crowds and among the crowds are the assorted felons: pick pockets, thieves, thugs and extortionists. The Roman Governor and soldiers were drawn to the City as well. Each would seek out the object of their devotion: the devout would find the Temple; and the felons would follow the devout, hungry for their purses; while the soldiers had a thirst for the public houses.
The thieves crucified near Jesus would have set their faces towards Jerusalem. Possibly they had come from the coast, or from Jericho. The Jericho Road did have a reputation for danger. Like Jesus, their paths had led them to the streets and markets of a City bursting to the seams with pilgrims. The thieves were happy to relieve them of their coins. We know nothing of their arrest and summary trial. Such occurrences were common knowledge and did not warrant a detailed account by the evangelists.
The familiar image of the crosses is mirrored in Elie Wiesel’s memoir of the Holocaust, Night. The provocative tableau is set in the Camp as they saw…
“three gallows rearing up in the assembly place, three black crows. Roll call. SS all around us, machine gun trained: the traditional ceremony. Three victims in chains – and one of them, the little servant, the sad-eyed angel… The three victims mounted together onto the chairs… ‘Where is God? Where is He?’ someone behind me asked,” Wiesel writes, and goes on, “At a sign from the head of the camp, the three chairs tipped over. Total silence throughout the camp. On the horizon, the sun was setting… Then the march past began. The two adults were no longer alive. Their tongues hung swollen, blue-tinged. But the third rope was still moving; being so light, the child was still alive… For more than half an hour he stayed there, struggling between life and death, dying in slow agony under our eyes. And we had to look him full in the face. He was still alive when I passed in front of him. His tongue was still red, his eyes not yet glazed. Behind me, I heard the same man asking: ‘Where is God now?’ And I heard a voice within me answer him: ‘Where is He? Here He is – He is hanging here on this gallows…’” [Cf. Night, pp. 74-76].
The language of redemption seems trivial, if not obscenely blind to the sufferer’s predicament. Words of redemption mock the torment and deny the profundity of the suffering. Rushing to Easter with the rhetoric of redemption, no matter how benevolently used, sounds condescending and remains the ploy of oppressors even decades later.
As the word of the cross shatters any pretentious language of strength, wisdom and power (Cf. 1 Corinthians 1:18-31), so the word of Night stifles any Christian triumphalism.
Wiesel is no Christian apologist and we disallow the question if we do not stand in the silence. “Where is God now?” The question and the uncomfortable silence that follows frighten us. We are quick to fill the void. Auschwitz and Golgotha – they are dreadful and the question of a Jew in a Polish extermination camp only echoes the questions of Jews of an earlier age of oppression when Pontius Pilate was Governor.
A thief near Jesus had found that his pilgrimage led him where he did not plan to be. And on this last leg of his pilgrimage he had travelled in the company of Jesus. They had climbed the heights of this Mountain of God together. And Jesus assures him that they will continue their pilgrimage further, together. Today you will be with me… in Paradise.
The felon is not rewarded for a faith he doesn’t confess. Neither is he absolved of the sins that have strewn his path. Winning and reward is not the prize. Jesus simply assures him that what they face, they will face together.
Together, we affect not redemption, but the community that is its annunciator and first fruits of compassion.
Midi: Schindler’s List