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
Luke 23: 39-43
Woman, here is your son!
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 let wash my tears…
John: 19: 26-27
holy and mighty,
holy immortal one,
have mercy upon us.
Now I lay me
down to sleep
and if I walk
this earth for years
We are privileged to witness in this dark afternoon the image of Mary in an intimate moment – standing in the shadows, averting her eyes. Jesus’ gaze may speak with greater clarity than his parched throat. His shallow breathing would not give voice to words he could better express with a look.
His prayer had a history and it stretched back beyond his memory to that of Mary his mother, and Joseph as well. A memory that brought Persians to their humble hearth, laden with gifts and offering obeisance. Herod had asked them to bring him news of the birth of a new king. But Herod had no use for new kings and the Magi did not return to the palace with the news.
Mothers’ cries had broken the night’s air in Bethlehem with their vain pleas for mercy. Like glass shards, their cries pierced the silence when Herod’s rage saw the baby boys taken from their breasts and put to the blade of their swords. The mothers could not be consoled. We are mindful of Jeremiah’s testimony:
In Ramah a voice is heard, crying and weeping loudly. Rachel mourns for her children and refuses to be comforted, because they are dead. But I, the Lord, say to dry your tears. Someday your children will come home from the enemy’s land. Then all you have done for them will be greatly rewarded. So don't lose hope. I, the Lord, have spoken. [Jeremiah 31:15-17]
Those mothers of the Innocents lost the world. In the midst of the darkness that had overshadowed Bethlehem, Joseph took Mary and the infant Jesus and set his face toward Egypt. The cries of the mourning Mothers became fait to their ears the further they went. But the memory of those cries was seared into Mary’s consciousness. To save one life is to save the world. And by their intervention, Joseph and Mary did more than they might have imagined, and saved the world.
Cries had been heard in Egypt generations earlier. Moses had escaped and now Jesus escaped. Deliverance by the one, recalled in the Tallith with walls of water piled on either end of a shawl. Deliverance by the other, recalled in the Fair Linen with cruciform wounds marking a shawl that will soon vest the Altar in this Holy Place. The cries heard first in Egypt and only later in Bethlehem were heard and not disallowed. The weight of deliverance in one generation gave a value that has had currency for Jewry to this day. The weight of deliverance for us who recognize God’s Messiah, hanging from a cross, here vested in his Tallith, finds us covered in prayer as well.
But every generation has its moments of maternal anguish. Society and the Church have seldom gone beyond the tidy conventions that sanitize our posturing.
In the wake of Kristallnacht, a good Christian might suggest that Auschwitz was a divine reminder of the suffering of Christ. It is a cheap shot. Instead, we might better ask whether Jesus himself, had he been present at Auschwitz, could have resisted degradation and dehumanization at our own hands, and in our own time? What are the sufferings of the Cross compared to those of a mother whose child is slaughtered to the sound of laughter or the strains of a Viennese waltz? This question may sound sacrilegious to Christian ears. Yet we dare not shirk from it, for we – Christians as well as Jews – must ask: at Auschwitz, did the grave win the victory after all, or, worse than the grave, did the devil himself win?
We must not rush too quickly toward Easter morning. Better to savor the bitter mourning of Friday and the recognition that at last Mary stands with the women of Bethlehem as she see her son put to death, howbeit out of time.
The hope of Jesus’ prayer goes beyond the social welfare of his Mother and the fostering of her care by Jesus’ disciple. To leave Jesus’ intent in the domestic scene that normally arrests our attention and thought, is to side-step the great good news and substantive hope that his prayer reflects in Jeremiah’s forth-telling: “The time will surely come,” Jeremiah declared as the prophet of the Lord, “when I will make a new agreement with the people of Israel and Judah.”
Indeed the time has come and the time now is when the cup of Salvation is poured out – not in a Cathedral or a grand Basilica – but in a miserable place where God was found in prayer. Most would miss the event. After all it was a dark afternoon – but here amongst the cries that substituted for alleluias a Covenant long promised was cut.
Midi: Schindler’s List