Wednesday, 8 April 2020

The Shadows Darken



Day Three of Holy Week The Shadows Darken 

Behold the life-giving cross, on which was hung the Saviour of the whole world.
Behold the life-giving cross, on which was hung the Saviour of the whole world.
Behold the life-giving cross, on which was hung the Saviour of the whole world.

Silence for Meditation



Psalm 31

In you, O Lord, I seek refuge; do not let me ever be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me.
Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily.
Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me.


You are indeed my rock and my fortress; for your name’s sake lead me and guide me, take me out of the net that is hidden for me, for you are my refuge.
Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.


You hate those who pay regard to worthless idols, but I trust in the Lord.
I will exult and rejoice in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction; you have taken heed of my adversities, and have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy; you have set my feet in a broad place.


Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eye wastes away from grief, my soul and body also.
For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my misery, and my bones waste away.


I am the scorn of all my adversaries, a horror to my neighbours, an object of dread to my acquaintances; those who see me in the street flee from me.
I have passed out of mind like one who is dead; I have become like a broken vessel.
For I hear the whispering of many— terror all around!— as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life.


But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’
My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.
Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love.
Do not let me be put to shame, O Lord, for I call on you; let the wicked be put to shame; let them go dumbfounded to Sheol.
Let the lying lips be stilled that speak insolently against the righteous with pride and contempt.


O how abundant is your goodness that you have laid up for those who fear you, and accomplished for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of everyone!
In the shelter of your presence you hide them from human plots; you hold them safe under your shelter from contentious tongues.


Blessed be the Lord, for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me when I was beset as a city under siege.
I had said in my alarm, ‘I am driven far from your sight.’
But you heard my supplications when I cried out to you for help.


Love the Lord, all you his saints.
The Lord preserves the faithful, but abundantly repays the one who acts haughtily.
Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord.




The Fifth Word     John 19:26-28                 “I Am Thirsty”

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfil the scripture), ‘I am thirsty.’



Song for reflection          As the Deer   
                     

Homily   I Thirst

Jesus knew physical pain,  not make believe or pretend but real, agonizing, death preferring pain. My previous reflections focused on the intense emotional pain of Jesus; now we focus on the intense physical pain of Jesus.

Jesus experienced the enormity of human pain.   There were lashes across his back. There was a crown of thorns stuck into his head. There were the ten-inch spikes through his wrists. There was his hanging for hours. Jesus experienced the enormity of human pain, and thereby, so did God as Jesus suffered on the cross.

The Son of God, the Mind of God, the Heart of God, was fully human. Jesus was fully God but also fully human. He suffered intense emotional pain. He suffered intense physical pain.

That means that God knows and truly understands our physical and emotional pain.

This story is not about spiritual thirst such as thirsting after God and thirsting after righteousness or peace. It is not about thirsting after the living water like the woman at the well. This passage is about when a person was thirsty with parched lips and a throat that was dry from hanging on a cross in the high heat of the day suffering unthinkable agony. 

There are times in life when we feel physically awful. The pain is excruciating and so the medical experts to mask the pain we are feeling with medicine. There are some days when you become so physically sick that you want to die and Jesus knew that kind of day.

The pains and illness that we suffer are fully understood because Jesus himself experienced all that we experience; and more.

Physically, Jesus was fully humiliated; he could not control his bodily functions during this pain. During an illness our bodies become incredibly weak. We often feel humiliated and helpless. Magnify those feelings and think about Jesus’ experience on the cross.   Weak, helpless, agonizing pain!

“They” were cruel to Jesus at the end. Who were the “they?” I don’t know, perhaps it was the soldiers. They were enormously cruel to Jesus at that moment on the cross. He was experiencing all that pain and a simple act of kindness would have given him a taste of water. Instead they gave him vinegar which worsened his pain.  They were the religious leaders there looking on at their handiwork, finally rid of this trouble maker who called their actions into question and who offered hope to those despicable people in society—the tax collectors, sinners, lepers and lost causes.  They were the disciples and followers who were conspicuous by their very absence.

“They” are the human race today. Many people are still cruel to Jesus. People are forever swearing and using God’s name and Jesus’ name in vain. People are still cruel towards Jesus today as the soldiers were at the closing moments of his life. Knowing that swearing and the abuse of Jesus’ name and God’s name is terrible; I think it is worse to withhold a cup of cold water to Jesus today. The primary way that we are cruel to Jesus today is to withhold water from Jesus as Jesus lives behind the faces and eyes and bodies of the hungry and needy of the world.  Mother Theresa, who fed the hungry of the world, has a sign above the entrance to the chapel in all her missions around the word, “I thirst, I quench.” When we give water to those in need, we are giving water to Jesus on the cross. We are quenching his thirst.

We are reminded of his words from the Matthew 25 “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” 37Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” 40And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,* you did it to me.”
I thirst……I quench!

  

Silence

Hymn    When I Survey the Wondrous Cross



The Sixth Word                 John 19:28-30     “It is Finished”

After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfil the scripture), ‘I am thirsty.’ A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.


Song of Reflection          Sorrowing Song


Homily  It Is Finished



It Is Finished! With an exclamation point after the word, finished. What does that phrase, “it is finished” mean? Does it mean, over and done with? Does it mean, it is accomplished? What does the phrase, “it is finished,” mean?

Perhaps being finished means we received our pink slip and we know that we are out of a job. It is now finished, all over, over and done with.

Sometimes it is used to describe a ball game. My team lost in the tournament. The ride is finished, over and done, but it was great while it lasted.

Sometimes the phrase can be used with a hobby. The ski season is over; it is finished and it is time to put away the skiis until next season. Or, the boating season is over and done with; it is finished, all over, and it is time to put away the boat until next season. Or the fishing rod. Or the hunting rifles. Or the hiking boots. Or the gardening tools. Or whatever the hobby may be for its particular season: it is over and done with, finished.

An elderly gentleman, perhaps your father, gets deathly sick and dies before you get to the hospital. You walk in the room and someone says, “It is all over. It is finished. Dad died.”

It can happen when partners aren’t get along that well and the love between them gradually dies. One of them will say to the other, “It is over, done with, finished. We have to get a divorce.”

In all of these everyday situations, “it is finished” means over and done with.

It is finished, meaning, over and done with, is also associated with the Bible. These words, it is finished, is associated with the end of the life of Christ and those words mean, “over and done with.”

The Romans finished Jesus off and killed one more revolutionary. The Roman Empire was the most powerful political force on earth for three hundred years. It was in 63 BC that the Roman Empire can be the “superpower” of its particular century, and Pompei was the ruler. The Roman Empire built arches and aqueducts, armies and armadas, and they ruled ruthlessly, stomping out all opposition. Throughout the conquered nations, there were always counter-revolutionaries for the Romans to extinguish. There were political fires to be put out. In the year 6 AD, in Galilee, the Romans killed 2,000 revolutionaries. Two decades after Jesus died, the Romans eliminated another 3,000 revolutionaries. And Jesus, he was one more revolutionary to be eliminated from the face of the earth. The Romans killed Jesus and finished Jesus and his movement. As far as the Romans were concerned, it was all over. Finished and done with.

The Jewish leaders also thought it was finished, all over, over and done with. The Jewish leaders assumed that Jesus was dead and his movement along with him. The Jewish leaders had agitated the crowd into a riot, had falsely accused Jesus, and gotten the Roman ruler, Pontius Pilate, to condemn Jesus by execution. Jesus had attacked their temple, their sacrifices, their places of privileged authority. It was now finished. The job was done.  Finished.

The disciples thought Jesus was finished. Their leader had been killed on a cross, and now they would grieve and go back to their jobs: fishermen, tax collectors, or whatever.

So “it is finished” meant that the Roman leaders, the Jewish leaders and the disciples thought Jesus was finished, over and done with.

“It is finished” can also mean, It is accomplished. It is accomplished, fulfilled, completed. Then one puts an exclamation point after the phrase. It is accomplished. The job is done. The work is complete. This calls for a victory celebration, high fiving all the people around. And then, the mood of the phrase is quite different than the pessimism of “it is over and done with.”

Think about it, best painter of the world is standing back from the canvas, admiring the work that he has just finished, the Mona Lisa, the most famous portrait of all painting of all history. It is exquisite. The artist, Rembrandt, steps back from the canvas, looks at his work, puts down his paint brush for the last time and says, “It is finished! It is perfect. The job is done. There is nothing I can do to improve it. This is as perfect a painting as I can make. It is finished!, he exclaims inside.”

The artist, Michelangelo, stands back from his stone sculpture, the marble figure of young King David, and looks at his marble statue with is brilliant eye for detail. There is nothing more that he can do. He puts his mallet down, his chisels, his fine polishing stone and says, “It is done. The work is done. It is finished. I have finished it. There is nothing more I can do.” And the mood of the phrase, it is finished, is triumphant, an exclamation of satisfaction.

An expert finisher of wood is finishing his product. A finely made desk that he has made. This artist in wood is an expert, and he has crafted a polished desk, made of the finest oak. After the building, the sanding, the smoothing, the numerous coats of varnish, the desk glistens like a jewel. The artist stands back, admires the work he has done, puts down his finishing tools, and says, “It is finished. It is accomplished. I had the design in my mind and after all these weeks and months, I now have finished it. How grand. There is nothing more that I can do to make it better.”

We also have other examples from our own simple and plain lives, A student graduates from high school or college and says after the ceremony: “I finished. I got the degree.” And Grandpa or Grandma says,  “Great accomplishment. You have much to be proud of.” Or, you plan a big wedding goes off without a hitch, and when everyone is gone and the mother and father fall into the sofa in exhaustion, they high five and say, “It is finished. We pulled it off. What a great party we had.” Or when you finally finish your taxes and have filled in all the numbers and have added your signature, you say to yourself, “It is finished. I accomplished the job. I got the taxes done.” The mood of the statement, It is finished, can be exclamatory and victorious.

Listen again to Jesus’ words, It is Finished!  Add a slight change in the mood of the words.  Say them with victory and exclamation, “It is finished!!!” Jesus’ final words on earth, according to the Gospel of John, are not: “O shucks. It is over. Close the book on that.” No, not at all. The mood is just the opposite. When Jesus said, It is finished, the Greek words mean, “It is accomplished!!! I have done the job that God gave me to do. Yes, it is accomplished. God’s will has been accomplished in my life.”

Jesus, as he died on the cross, said “It is accomplished.” This is a victorious and triumphant statement. Jesus was perfectly obedient to God throughout his whole life and now his death. Jesus exemplified love It was there in his teachings, miracles and now at the end of his life, Jesus personified God’s love by dying on the cross that others might live. This was no ending, It is finished. I accomplished what God gave me to do in this world. To be the loving person that God wanted me to be. …Earlier in John 17:4, Jesus said, “the way I glorify God is to accomplish the work that he gave me to do.”

God wants us to feel that way about our lives, “It is accomplished. I have accomplished what God has given me to do. Not me, but Christ who lives in me. God’s plan and purpose for my life have been accomplished.  God has used the minutes, hours, days, months and years that have been entrusted to me and God’s will and purpose have been done in my life.” This is not bragging or comparing oneself to another or a symptom of pride. It is just a fact of life. That is the way that God wants us to feel about ourselves as we come to the end of our lives, whether that is young or old in years. That we can say like the Apostle Paul said about his life; I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.” God wants us to feel that way about our lives as well.

No matter how imperfect, no matter how sinful, no matter how many shortcomings we have, Jesus died to accomplish forgiveness for us. God wants us to feel the same way about our lives as our lives s they are ending: Well done, good and faithful servant. It is finished. God’s will has been accomplished through your life. You have fought the good fight, you have finished the race, you have kept the faith.”

Listen again to Jesus’ last words and listen to the spirit of triumphant, a strong finale, when Jesus concluded his life by saying, “It is accomplished!”

Silence

Hymn    Tis finished the Messiah Dies

The Seventh Word

Luke 23:44-47     “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ Having said this, he breathed his last. When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, ‘Certainly this man was innocent.’


Reflection Song                God Weeps






Homily  Father, Into Your Hands I Commit my Spirit



After Jesus had spoken the Sixth Word and before he spoke the Seventh Word--Luke tells us that the curtain of Temple was torn in two. In the Great Temple there was a place called the Holy of Holies. This was the meeting place between a Holy God and a sinful people. This curtain prevented un-holy people from entering the Holy house of God. Once a year the Great High Priest was permitted by Jewish law to enter this place with awe and trembling to make the sacrifice for the sins of the people. This was the Great Day of Atonement.

However, when Jesus cried out, "It is finished"--this curtain was no longer necessary. Jesus Christ would now be our only mediator between God and His people. With that part of the journey now completed--Jesus was ready to go home! Max Lucado captures this moment better than anyone else when he wrote: ( I think the book is called On Calvary's Hill, but I must confess that I don't remember)

"The voice that screamed at God, `My God, My God,
Why have you forsaken me,' now says, `Father.'
The two are again one.
The abandoned is now found.
The schism is now bridged.
" `Father.' He smiles weakly. 'It's over.'
Satan's vultures have been scattered.
Hell's demons have been jailed.
Death has been damned.
The sun is out,
The Son is out.
"It's over.
An angel sighs. A star wipes away a tear.
" `Take me home.'
Yes, take him home
Take this prince to his king
Take this son to his father
Take this pilgrim to his home
(He deserves a rest.)
" `Take me home.'
Come ten thousand angels! Come and take this wounded troubadour to the cradle of his Father's arms!"
"Farewell manger's infant
Bless You holy ambassador
Go Home death slayer
Rest well sweet soldier
"The battle is over."
Jesus cried out with a loud voice-- for all nearby to hear his declaration, "Father, into your hands, I commit my spirit!" Dr. William Barclay writes, "Jesus died with a prayer on his lips. `Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.' That is Psalm 31:5 with one word added-- Father.” This verse of Psalm 31 is a prayer that Jewish parents taught their children to say at night. Just as we were taught to say our prayers at night and still remember, `Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep and if I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.’ Jesus made it even more intimate, for he began it with the word Father. Even on the cross Jesus died like a child falling asleep in his father's arms." 

Often, we dismiss or think unimportant what we have learned as children in Sunday School or on our parents' knees. However, we are learning from the behavioral sciences just how important it is to learn the right things in our childhood days. Dr. Karl Barth was once asked what his single most important theological discovery was. Hi reply was simple but profound "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so." We never outgrow this simple message, and our response to it sets the tone for every age and stage of our earthly life.

Jesus in his final moments on his journey did not speak large words. He did not engage in a philosophical debate. He uttered the words of the first prayer he ever learned. This is what gave great comfort to his soul in his last moments. These last words were a testimony to what life is about. He began life with God--and he completed his earthly journey with God.

In this prayer that makes up the Seventh Word from the Cross, we see that it is a Prayer of Communion with God, it is a Prayer of Confidence in the power of God, and finally it is a Prayer of Commitment--Jesus entrusting God to prosper the work he had done on the Cross. He deposited his soul, his love, his life with the Father.

It has been reported what others said as their last words when death was near.
Macbeth said, "Out, out brief candle; life's but a walking shadow."
Goethe cried, "Light! More light!"
Anatole France said, "Draw the curtain; the farce is played out."
Jesus Christ said, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!"

We have not studied, prayed, and worshipped our way these past weeks through lent and now the seven last words of our Lord Jesus from the Cross for rules. We have traveled this Lenten season to deepen our relationship with God--to see how God in Christ has fully entered into the human experience. We have worshipped and worked to draw closer to the Christ of the Cross-- but not a sliver of wood.

Many years ago I heard a story told (I have no idea if it is true it was used to make a point) of two young men who had broken into a church to see what they could pilfer. They were not very successful thieves and were caught almost immediately. The police asked the pastor what should be done with these young men. The pastor replied that he would like them left with him. The young men were understandably worried. The pastor said to the young men, I want you to go kneel at the altar and gaze upon the face of Jesus as he hangs on the cross and I want you to repeat this three times. "You hung there and died, you did all of this for me and I don’t care!"  Then the pastor said you are free to go. The young men grinned at each other, figured that they had gotten off lightly and that the task was an incredibly easy one to perform. So they knelt, gazed at the face of Jesus as he hung there on the cross and slowly began the mantra that they had been given. They managed to get through once and had begun the second time and realized the pastor had indeed assigned them a difficult task and as they attempted to repeat the words for the final time one of them said “you hung there and died, you did all of this for me…and I care.” They recognized the truth that the pastor wanted them to learn, the power of the cross but more importantly the power of the gift that Jesus offered as he hung there slowly dying.

We struggle and probe meaning and the mystery that the cross holds for us. Now, we let the "Cross" do its work. Pick it up and carry it. It will be the most meaningful thing you have ever done; it will draw us closer to our Saviour, and understand why he could shout in the presence of utter darkness, "Father, into your hands, I commit my spirit."

Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray thee lord my soul to keep…. 
Jesus loves me this I know....

Whatever words you have that bring you to the closer presence of God, let them be your mantra as you gaze on the face that has offered all for us! Amen and Amen.

Silence

Lord Jesus, crucified for us, we kneel at the foot of your cross to watch with you.  Help us to see the cost of our forgiveness so that we may be made new through your love.  Amen
(Prayer from the New Zealand Prayer book for Good Friday pg 605)

Hymn      In the Cross of Christ I glory



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