I feel awkward at the simplicity and directness of the title; it’s more like an emphasis isn’t it?
I am finding myself open in new and important ways. The passion and suffering narratives of Jesus were part of my Lenten experience this year. The most helpful experience for me was to be at a prayer time last Sunday night at First Baptist Vancouver. It is called soaking prayer. Many of you will be familiar with it; I had not experienced it. For an hour, I simply prayed over a whole variety of things, and at some point during the time, someone came and put their hand on my shoulder and prayed for me. We were told on the little leaflet on the chairs spread out around the large meeting room that someone might indeed do that… come and pray for us if they felt lead. It was a most unusual experience. I arrived at the time incredibly burdened and left with a sense of peace that I still can not describe. The experience encouraged me, reminded me and reoriented me to the experience of Jesus, and particularly knowing full well what He was to expect, thinking of Him in this week before Good Friday. I want to leave you with thoughts I know in the reading of scripture, in your own pattern of reflection and in the prompting of the Spirit, that you will find closeness in your understanding with God this Easter.
Here are some selected readings that may be helpful.
John 18:1-11; in the garden of Gethsemane
After Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. 2 Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with his disciples. 3 So Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. 4 Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” 5 They answered, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus replied, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. 6 When Jesus said to them, “I am he,] they stepped back and fell to the ground. 7 Again he asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” 8 Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So if you are looking for me, let these men go.” 9 This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken, “I did not lose a single one of those whom you gave me.” 10 Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus. 11 Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?”
I was googling the old crusader / soloist Homer James this week. He was an Ottawa area farmer, a brilliant musician who won several CBC competitions until they changed the rules and banned religious music. When he died in 2010, Leighton Ford wrote the following poem.
Year by year
you went into the fields
strong in back and arms
to plough and plant
like any farmer never guaranteed
what sun and rain would bring
but trusting that in time
the harvest would be there
in corn and grain.
Night by night
you walked into the crowds
head and shoulders straight
a microphone in hand
to ask for some requests
never knowing what they might ask
but trusting that your songs
were also seeds of love
and hope and faith to spring up
in the soil of hearer’s hearts.
One last time,
you slipped into another world
your blood and body failing
you sold your seed and corn
not sure of future markets
held to your grandgirl’s hand
arranged for your own funeral
whispered that your wife was a
woman of the Word
trusting that your life offered
like your Lord’s would be seed
multiplied for many.
A friend sent me two stanzas from the Scottish group Iona and the second stanza particularly reminds me that in His dying, Jesus has gone before us. He has been “beyond these shores” as the last line says. Here is the poem:
Beyond these shores into the darkness
Beyond these shores this boat may sail
And if this is the way
Then there will be
A path across this sea.
And if I fail beyond the hardest ocean
Or lose myself in depths below
Wherever I may go
You love surrounds me
For you have been before beyond these shores.
We have shared Peter Abelard in days gone by and he is here again to share with us this week.
Good Friday: The Third Nocturne
Alone to sacrifice Thou goest, Lord,
Giving Thyself to death whom Thou wilt slain.
For us Thy wretched folk is any word,
Whose sins have brought Thee to this agony?
For they are ours, O Lord, our deeds, our deeds.
Why must Thou suffer torture for our sin?
Let our hearts suffer for Thy passion, Lord,
That very suffering may Thy mercy win.
This is that night of tears, the three days’ space,
Sorrow abiding of the eventide,
Until the day break with the risen Christ,
And hearts that sorrowed shall be satisfied.
So may our hearts share in Thine anguish, Lord,
That they may sharers of Thy glory be:
Heavy with weeping may the three days pass,
To win the laughter of Thine Easter Day.
I don’t know how to explain this, or even how I got this, but this YouTube clip of Ernest Borgnine talking about his role in the film “Jesus of Nazareth” and the execution as he played the Roman soldier; the guileless simple spirituality of it is very moving. Trust me.
Not to leave us bereft, I want to give you the first part of John Updike’s poem on resurrection. Not the whole – that comes next week. But just in part.
SEVEN STANZAS FOR EASTER
Make no mistake: if he rose at all
It was as His body;
If the cell’s dissolution did not reverse, the molecule reknit,
The amino acids rekindle,
The Church will fall.
It was not as the flowers,
Each soft spring recurrent;
It was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled eyes of the
It was as His flesh; ours.
The same hinged thumbs and toes
The same valved heart
That—pierced—died, withered, paused, and then regathered
Out of enduring Might
New strength to enclose.
Sam Chaise handed me a stunning article by James Parker in the Atlantic on Chesterton, which included this line: “And has anyone gone further than Chesterton into the agonizing paradox of the Crucifixion—Jesus’ cry of abandonment from the cross, when “God seemed for an instant to be an atheist”?”
What do you think of Chesterton’s observation? I think it’s clever, but inaccurate. You cannot disbelieve in someone you feel abandoned by. Jesus was having a brawl with His father, but it was no shadow boxing – it was flesh upon flesh, bone upon bone. Something to reflect on.
I will recall and dwell on my many failings and sins this week; I will hear them from the accuser, but I will receive them from the cleansing, promoting, toughness of the Holy Spirit. I will begin with the old Victorian phrase… “I will begin in debtor’s prison.” But sometime between what has been done fully on Good Friday (you must listen to Darrell Johnson’s sermon last Sunday on this topic), and Easter Sunday morning, I shall once again be made new.