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
Mark: 15: 33-34 and Matthew: 27: 46
John: 19: 28-29
It is finished.
John: 19: 30
Luke 23: 44-46
Now I lay me down
if I find a
The White Crucifixion (detail)
I pray the Spirit it’s not too late…
It is finished.
John: 19: 30
holy and mighty,
holy immortal one,
have mercy upon us.
Now I lay me
down to sleep
and if I find a
path that’s straight
It’s a good practice to begin a story at its beginning and if it’s a good story pages will turn quickly. Taking a peek at the last page – or the last chapter will diminish any good story and we won’t read it with the sense of adventure and anticipation it rightly deserves.
The story of Jesus’ ministry is no different. While we might have our favourite episodes, marked by broken spines and dog-eared pages, we have the benefit of the Revised Common Lectionary that allows Christians to be engaged by the Scriptures in an orderly manner. Lutherans and Roman Catholics, Presbyterians and the United Church of Canada join us in listening to the same liturgical Readings. We all begin at the beginning together. And we follow the stories in a thematic way so that the Torah and the Gospels, the Prophets and the Epistles weave an account of God’s redemptive activity. We often find ourselves turning to the Prophet Isaiah. That is not without precedent. John did that…
The Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and temple helpers to ask John who he was. He told them plainly, “I am not the Messiah.” Then when they asked him if he were Elijah, he said, “No, I am not!” And when they asked if he were the Prophet, he also said “No!” Finally, they said, “Who are you then? We have to give an answer to the ones who sent us. Tell us who you are!” John answered in the words of the prophet Isaiah, “I am only someone shouting in the desert, ‘Get the road ready for the Lord!’” [John 1:19-20]
John had no misgivings as to who he was. From the outset, John was preparing the way for the Messiah.
In Nazareth, Jesus unrolled the Isaiah scroll and found the place where it was written:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’” [Luke 4:18-21]
Such were Jesus’ beginnings. Good news was to be brought to the poor. The captive would be release from what bound them as surely as Isaac had been bound by Abraham – and their fear and terror would be set aside. Those who could not see – and those who would not see – found that their blindness was addressed and somehow they were restored. And the oppressed, the oppressed would find relief from the weight of exploitation. These things Isaiah knew and Israel anticipated. What wasn’t anticipated was Jesus brief homily on the Sabbath: ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’
Jesus sent John’s disciples back to John in prison with the message, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” [Matthew 11:4]
In Gethsemane Jesus had prayed, “I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do.” His prayer in the darkness continuing later in the Day and while breath was short and breathing was shallow, my suspicion is that Jesus knew that it wasn’t finished.
The blind would continue to be among us and their sight would need to be restored in each generation. The lame would walk, yes, but others would stumble onto the stage of life and they would have to be engaged. Leprosy would be replaced with HIV/AIDS or possibly cancer or mental disease – conditions that exclude and limit the capacity of God’s compassion to be expressed through those that claim him as Lord. They continue today and they will follow, providing us with opportunities to join with Jesus in a ministry he modeled for us.
Recently, while enjoying a sandwich and soup at a local coffee shop, a woman sitting at an adjacent table spoke up and asked if the book I had with me was good. I said it was, and began my lunch. But I didn’t read more than a paragraph. I noticed that she was definitely upset, and I asked if she was alright. She was a Hindu by her costume and the mark on her forehead. She has been in Canada for twenty years. She talked of God easily – and her faith – but was in anguish over her recent divorce and the loss of her young son. I sat and listened. Tempted to intervene and say something, I knew that the cornerstone of my faith would be a stumbling block for her. It was enough that I sit and listen. She would nest her head in the fold of her arm and resurface, tearless – no longer able to cry. When I left, I paused and placed my hand on her shoulder. I asked her name, and blessed her. I thanked her for speaking, and she thanked me for listening.
It’s far from finished.
Midi: Schindler’s List