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
John: 19: 26-27
God, my God,
Mark: 15: 33-34 and Matthew: 27: 46
John: 19: 28-29
John: 19: 30
Luke 23: 44-46
Now I lay me down
if I lend
The White Crucifixion (detail)
I pray the Spirit to let it stand…
Mark: 15: 33-34 and Matthew: 27: 46
holy and mighty,
holy immortal one,
have mercy upon us.
Now I lay me
down to sleep
and if I lend a
The White Crucifixion draws us close to the Passion. Chagall presents us with a kaleidoscopic review as the tableaus of the Shoah surround the crucified Jesus. Our eyes dart from one tableau to another and fresh recognitions meet us.
A prized toy of my youth was a kaleidoscope presented to me on my birthday. As a young boy I marveled at the images I could see through the cardboard tube. I would place it to my eye, like a spyglass, and aiming it toward the light, one hand would rotate part of the tube while my other hand would hold the other half stationary. The images of various colours would move, fall actually, as I rotated the tube and mirrors inside the tube would reflect the images for my eye. The shards of coloured glass made stars that approached the capacity of the Hubble Telescope for this young mind. Image replaced image with every turn and on every revolution new details emerged.
Chagall captures the wonderment of the kaleidoscope and goes further. His insight of a youthful pastime finds application even in the darkness of Kristallnacht. And it finds application in the darkness of Good Friday as well.
As the terror of Israel ran to outpace the Red Army and the Brown Shirts of the national socialists, Jesus is illumined by the Paschal Moon of the fourteenth day of the Month of Nisan.
Matthew recalls the jeering: “King of Israel, indeed!” Jesus remains fixed to a cross enveloped in a darkness that reached Jewry in our age. Not witnesses to the first, we have witnessed the latter. And prayer covers both the Rabbi on the cross as well as the faithful rushing for safety, protecting the Torah scroll. Broken shards of glass from synagogue and shop windows throughout Germany reflected light in a dark night that caught the attention of a few, too few to prevent the Holocaust that followed.
Our vulnerability is accentuated in the darkness and prayers abound. The confidence of the Psalmist, familiar to both Jesus as well as those whose sleep was broken and whose lives were ended in the early hours of a November night. God’s continuing presence sought in prayer…
Whither shall I go then from thy spirit?
or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
If I climb up into heaven, thou art there:
if I go down to hell, thou art there also.
If I take the wings of the morning,
and dwelt in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there also shall thy hand lead me,
and thy right hand shall hold me.
If I say, ‘Surely darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me become night’,
Yet even the darkness is no darkness with thee, but the night is as clear as the day:
the darkness and light to thee are both alike. [Psalm 139: 6-11]
The assurance given to Moses through God’s revelation in the Burning Bush was a continuing purposeful presence that would lead to redemption.
For European Jewry darkness weighed heavy on their continuing hope. And darkness covered Jesus more than any setting sun and the light of that Good Friday had become night. Every dark place lighted by the Paschal Moon rehearsed at once the promise of deliverance of God by Moses and left Jesus alone, forsaken.
The Covenant had been entered into. On the Eighth Day the Mosaic Law had been observed and the child was named Jesus. Further, as the Law had demanded, Mary and Joseph had taken their son to the Temple and redeemed him on his Fortieth Day as the first-born of Mary. Doves had been offered for sacrifice and an oblation.
The words of the Psalmist fall on deaf ears and an immense darkness envelopes us. The kaleidoscopic images of our lives fall into place like pieces of broken glass. Chagall’s insight allows us to recognize instances in our own lives that have overwhelmed and isolated us… the hushed prognosis of our doctor in his office, following a series of tests… an unexpected phone call bringing news that darkens an otherwise bright and sunny day… a knock on the door by a Constable with news we can hardly bear… My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?
Jesus has drawn close to us in his despair. We dare not disallow it. He looked for the God of Promise to be present, and alone in his darkness, he failed to see – “yet even the darkness is no darkness with thee, but the night is as clear as the day: / the darkness and light to thee are both alike.”
Apparently it was that dark.
Midi: Schindler’s List