7LW: Today

JMJ

This is the second in a series of posts on the Seven Last Words of Our Lord from the cross. There is a menu and a posting schedule at the bottom of this post.

Today you will be with me in Paradise.

PUT YOURSELF ON THE CROSS next to Jesus there. We want to imagine our self as, perhaps, “The Wise Thief” and we impart all virtue to him and pray we can be like him. The Byzantine Liturgy has a hymn called an Exapostalarian sung on Good Friday, “The Wise Thief, thou didst make worthy of paradise in a single moment,” but put yourself in the theif’s place. I mean really.

When you’re honest with yourself, do you recognize your sinfulness? I mean really honest with yourself. I don’t mean, right now, while you’re reading these words but rather, over all the course of your life, are you honestly aware of all the missteps? And, perhaps, if you are like me, you not only have “missteps” but outright rejections or even betrayals that weigh on your mind, your heart. Do you lay awake at night and say, “What was I thinking?” Are there times when you point at your misspent youth and chuckle and say “Wow, I was a fool.” But then other times you wonder, “Did I break everything then? Was I such a fool that that can’t be fixed”

We might look at ourselves in the mirror of our lives and see, in the past, was I so in the employ of darkness that even now I cannot enter the light.

And Jesus whispers to us, “Today you shall be with me.”

Imagine hearing these words – entirely unexpectedly – after having said, “I deserve this.” That’s exactly what the Thief said, “I totally messed up and I deserve this crucifixion. I deserve this public humiliation. I deserve this pain. I deserve this blood. This suffocation.” So, the thief knows exactly the kind of man he is. “Today…”

Is there doubt now? For knowing who you are, what you are, what you were in the past, what you may even now crave to still be… of course there is doubt.

CS Lewis puts this doubt even into Narnian Paradise where a dead Calormene soldier (the “bad guys”) finds himself in the Heavenly garden at the end of The Last Battle. I don’t want to unpack the theology because there is a controversy that is not the point of this essay, but – even standing in Paradise – the Wise Calormene doubts he should be there.

Is that you? It’s me.

How can this God who knows not only everything I ever did – or even ever will do, who knows how I rejected him, blasphemed him, denied him in public (and in private); how can this God whose very pains, wounds, suffocation, and bleeding were, in ways I cannot understand, caused by my actions say to me, “Today.”

This is the cost of love: not Jesus’ pains, but you letting go of your doubt. That is the cost of Love. If you love Jesus, it’s ok to be honest about yesterday but also to let go of your doubts about today.

Trust is such a hard thing to gain, but even harder to extend. We sort of want a vengeful God. We want him to be judgy and spiteful. Of course we usually want that directed at others, at our enemies, but in our more self-reflective moments that same vengeful and spiteful God should be directed at us, right? For, in the first person, if anyone deserves that treatment it’s me.

When the Wise Thief heard the word today what did he think? Did he leaned back and relax on the wood of his cross? I doubt that. The nails were still as painful the air still as hard to grasp in lungs constricted by crucifixion. Did he suddenly wonder if he was crucified next to a crazy man? Paradise in the middle of all of this? Scripture doesn’t say. We should not interpolate.

But for me, for you, we have both heard the word today, just now. And like the thief we have the rest of our lives before us to contemplate what that means.

Denial of the reality can sound like we’re being spiritually mature. We can make a “humble brag” and say something pious like Domine, non sum dignus as we thumb our chests. But God wants to move us one step further along. It’s not enough to be aware of your sins, to know that you deserve what’s coming to you. When Jesus prayed, a moment ago, “Father, forgive them.” He included you.

And now he offers you Paradise.

Not pie in the sky by and by when you die. But Today. We see heaven each time we see Mass. We touch eternity each time the host enters our body. Will you deny it or open up to it?

Trust is hard to earn – but even harder to extend. Really. Paradise. You need only trust and it’s yours. Today.

7LW: Forgive

JMJ

This is the first in a series of posts on the Seven Last Words of Our Lord from the cross. This series will continue through Lent. There is a menu and a posting schedule at the bottom of this post.

Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.

Forgiveness IS NOT ONLY Something nice to do it is a hallmark of Christianity. Ancient religions are filled with curses, imprecations, taboos, and days of impropriety. Many of the traditions allowed for paybacks of some kind: debt which had to be paid, curses which had to be undone, ditches that had to be filled. If you read the earlier books to indicate that the “Jewish God” was like this, you’d be wrong, though. It’s not correct to say the God of the Old Testament demanded repayment: as if the blood of bulls or of goats could repay for sins. Sin took life – the very life force – from one. Sacrifice restore that balance but it did not forgive. God taught us in the sacrificial rites that something was off. Something was amiss in humanity. Something needed fixing.

Sin is a symptom of this sickness.

In the case of God, responding to Christ’s intercession forgiveness is instant and forever and for all involved. When Christ begs forgiveness here, it’s not just for the soldiers at his feet, it’s literally for you and me as well. We suffer from this thing amiss which has, as a presenting symptom, sin in general and each of our discrete acts of sin in particular. Christ begs forgiveness for us all and the Father offers it to us all.

But the thing amiss won’t even let us accept God’s Gift of forgiveness. To accept the forgiveness offered is to say we are wrong. This one thing amiss is so ingrained in us that we feel like it’s our true human nature. It’s almost like our identity: it’s who we are – or who we feel we are – and to accept forgiveness is to admit that who we thought we were is not who we were intended to be. We are addicted to shoring up this fake identity. We build arches and buttresses, fortifications and ramparts designed to prop up this imaginary thing. This thing is thinking that we are God, we are self-made, we can do whatever we want. To accept forgiveness is to admit that that is a lie, that our entire identity and sense of self is smoke and mirrors.

We learn to think this from our parents and from generation after generation of our predecessors. We come to imagine that to accept this forgiveness is somehow to betray them as well. So ingrained is this sickness, this fake identity that to accept this forgiveness is to die in a real way. To accept this forgiveness to be crucified. Jesus prays from the cross for our forgiveness he’s inviting us to join him.

Saint Paul says, “I am crucified with Christ and yet I live. Yet not I but Christ who lives in me.”

When we die, Christ lives, and we are forgiven.

The curious gift of this forgiveness is that once we accept it, once we accept that we are not God, we are given the Divine ability to forgive others in exactly the same way.

And so, from the Cross of our lives, we can hang suspended in pain and bleeding and still say, “Forgive.”

We can take every gift God has given us in the death of Jesus only by admitting that we are not God and that we need these gifts. But in doing so we become empowered to dispense those gifts to all around us.

And, like Jesus on the Cross, we have the divine gift to offer forgiveness even to those who do not seek it, who may even reject it if they knew we offered it.


7LW: Introduction

JMJ

FOR LENT THIS YEAR, as I have done for Advent for most of the last 20 years, I will post a series of meditations on a regular schedule. The theme for this series is the Seven Last Words of Our Lord, spoken from the Cross on Good Friday. There is a menu at the bottom, along with a posting schedule: it starts on Sunday 28th February and runs until 30th March.

Everyone has their own Calvary: “Toiling up new Calv’ries ever / With the cross that turns not back” as the old hymn says. Jesus’ last words become our words as well. Let us see where this meditation takes us.

By the light of burning martyrs,
Jesus’ bleeding feet we track,
Toiling up new Calv’ries ever
With the cross that turns not back;
New occasions teach new duties,
Time makes ancient good uncouth;
They must upward still and onward,
Who would keep abreast of truth.

(I mean, it is Lent…)

From the Seven Last Words

JMJ

This was a meditation was part of the Good Friday Seven Last Words at St Dominic’s Catholic Church in San Francisco. As a result of the current crisis, the meditations were recorded and posted on YouTube rather than preached from the pulpit. The video is shared at the end of this post.

I thirst.

Many of us as children have woken up at night and asked for a glass of water.

Maybe as a parent our child wakes up and asks: Mommy, can I have a glass of water? 

These words of our Lord, “I thirst” sound like that same cry. 

We wake at night, in the dark, alone, afraid: and we really want Mommy. But “I’m thirsty” is what we say: it makes sense, it’s the feeling we have… dry mouth… must be thirsty. But what causes it, in the middle of the night.

Is fear.

Just as if you were suddenly afraid for your life you would be suddenly dry mouthed. 

But no adult says, at that point, “Mommy, can I have some water?”

I thirst.

The eternal, Triune God, in the Second Person in Human Flesh, is crying out because of a dry mouth, part of the whole Flight or Fight thing that the same God built into us for our protection.

Here… it betrays him: it’s human weakness.

The God who made water. Who made mouths. Who made the nervous system. This God is afraid. This God is thirsty. This God… is about to die.

My heart breaks… this is love.

Was one of the first words ever taught to the Baby, the Word learning words, “yisemeh” – the Aramaic for “Thirsty”?  

His mother, standing there at the foot of the cross, hears her own baby again crying out “yisemeh”.  Can her heart not break remembering everything at that moment: from his first cry, to his first words, to the first time he woke up afraid, depicted in the icon of “Our Lady of Perpetual Help” where his sandal is flopping loose.

Eemma…Mommy… Yisemeh!

Brothers and Sisters. This is love.

In this time of danger.

In this time of death.

In this time of fear.

God knows… we are all thirsty. We cannot have the chalice. We cannot even come to mass. We cannot touch to hug, to hold or shake hands.

Some do this for safety, but we do not do this out of fear: rather it is out of love for our neighbor, for those who are weakest among us, for those who are most vulnerable.

Our priests, our Bishops, our Holy Father also feel this pain as they cannot do for us what they have been ordained and sacramentally ordered to do. 

Our hands are held back, our heart breaks, our love restrains us. Touch – when touch is most needed…

We thirst! We cry out to our mother, the Church who stands by watching and weeping for us.

Our God knows and understands: this is love.

In this time of danger.

In this time of death.

In this time of fear.

Christ our God has been here before us. Become of love, he has faced in mortal flesh, fear and death. 

And Jesus has the victory.

We thirst with him today…

He will make us victorious with him.

A Devotion on the Symbols of the Passion

JMJ

From A Book of the Love of Jesus, A Collection of Ancient English Devotions in Prose and Verse, compiled and Edited by Fr Robert Hugh Benson (1915). Retrieved from the Archive, here. I’ve not edited the text at all so some of the words may include off-puttings, odd-spellings, or punctuations.

O VERNACLE I honour him and thee,
That thee made through his privity;
The cloth he set upon his ſace,
The print he left there, of his grace,
His mouth, his nose, his eyen too,
His beard, his hair, he did also ;
Shield me for all that in my life
That I have sinned with senses five,
Namely, with mouth of slandering,
Of false oaths and of backbiting,
And made boast with tongue also,
Of all the sins committed too,
Lord of heaven, forgive them me,
Through sight of the figure that I here see.

This knife betokeneth circumcision;
Thus he destroyed sin, all and some,
Of our forefather old Adam
Through whom we nature took of man.
From temptation of lechery
Be my succour when I shall die.

The pelican his blood did bleed
Therewith his nestlings for to feed :
This betokeneth on the rood
How our Lord fed us with his blood,
When he us ransomed out of hell
In joy and bliss with him to dwell,
And be our father and our food,
And we his children meek and good.

The pence also that Judas told,
For which Lord Jesu Christ was sold,
Shield us from treason and avarice
Therein to perish in no wise.

The lantern where they bare the light
When Christ was taken in the night ;
May it light me from nightly sin
That I never be seized therein.

Swords and staven that they bare
Jesu Christ therewith to fear;
From fiends, good Lord, do thou keep me,
Of them afraid that I not be.

Christ was stricken with a reed,
With it the Jews did break his head ;
With good cheer and mildest mood,
All he suffered and still he stood.
When I wrong any, or any me,
Be it forgiven for that pity !

The hand, O Lord, that tare thy hair,
And the hand that clapped thee on the ear,
May that pain be my succour there
That I have sinned with pride of ear ;
And of all other sins also
That with mine ears have I hearkened to !

The Jew that spat in God’s own face;
For that he suffered, give us grace,
What I have reviled, or any me,
For that despite, forgiven it be !

The cloth before thine eyen too
To buffet thee they knit it so;
May it preserve me from vengeance,
Of childhood and of ignorance
And of other sins also,
That I have with mine eyes done too,
And with my nostrils sins of smell
That I have done when sick or well !

The garment white that had seam none,
The purple they laid lot upon,
Be they my succour and my keeping,
For my body’s use of soft clothing !

With great reeds thou wert sorely dashed,
With scourges painful sorely lashed;
May that pain rid me of sins these,
Namely, of sloth and idleness !

The crown of thorn, on thine head thrust,
That tare thine hair, and thy skin buist,
Shield me from hell-pit’s agony
That I deserve through my folly !

To the pillar, Lord, also
With a rope they bound thee too;
The sinews from the bones did burst
So hard ’twas drawn and strainéd fast;
That bond release me and unbind
Of that I’ve trespassed and been unkind. !

The cross behind on his backbone,
That he suffered death upon,
Give me grace while yet I live
Clean of sin me for to shrive,
And thereto give true penitence,
And to fulfil here my penance !

Thou bare the cross and took thy gait
Out of Jerusalem’s city-gate;
All thy footsteps sweet and good
Were seen through shedding of thy blood;
Thou met with women of Bethlehem
And also of Jerusalem,
And all wept for thine agony;
To them thou saidest openly :
Now weep ye not for this my woe,
But for your children weep also ;
For them ye may lament full sore.
And your salt tears for them down pour;
For they shall have great torment hard
An hundred winters here-afterward.
Those steps of thine give us pardon
When forth we go with devotion
On pilgrimage on horse or foot,
Of all our sins be they our boot* !

*help

The nails through feet and hands also,
Help they me out of sin and woe
That I have here in my life done,
With hands handled, or on feet gone !

The hammer, Lord, both stern and great,
That drove the nails through hands and feet,
Be it my succour in my life
If any smite me with staff or knife !

The vessel with vinegar and gall
May it keep me from the sins all
That to the soul are venom dread,
That thereby I be not poisoned !

Though thou thirsted sore withal
They gave thee vinegar and gall;
From what I have drunken in gluttony
May it save me when I shall die;
That, Lord, now I pray to thee
For that grievance thou suffered for me !

Lord, that spear so sharply ground,
Within thy heart which made a wound,
Quench the sin that I have wrought,
Or in my heart have evil thought,
And of my stout pride thereto,
And mine unbuxomness also !

The ladder set up by occasion
When thou wert dead to be taken down,
When I am dead in any sin
Take me that I die not therein !

The tongs that drew the sharp nails out
Of feet and hands and all about,
And loosed thy body from the tree,
Of all my sins may they loose me !

The sepulchre wherein was laid H
is blessed body all be-bled,
May he send me ere that I die
Sorrow of heart and tear or eye,
Clear and cleanséd that I be,
Ere to my grave I betake me !
So that I may on the Doomsday
To judgment come without dismay,
And wend to bliss in company
Wherein a man shall never die,
But dwell in joy with our Lord right;
There is aye day and never night,
That ever lasts withouten end :—
Now jesu Christ us thither send ! Amen.

Holy Week Sonnets: Interlude

The actors all are here in place, our play
is set! The curtain ready rises now:
Apostles, Traitor, Priests, & King all bow.
Let us kneel down to watch the passion fray.

Here Pharisees assembled make a vow.
Here Judas strides with kiss through garden’s night.
Here Pilate waits for judging by his light.
Here Christ the Lamb of God all disavow.

Foul Clergy here will mock & slay a blight.
Confus’d Apostles here lost to a man.
Great Romans here made tools in God’s own plan.
Poor Women here will, mourning, get it right.

Tiz God’s victor’ous Coronation Day
when death itself our God by death shall slay!

Sonnet V Judas


Now Judas thief & liar, devil, friend
Here come I carefully to you: for pot
& kettle are both black & we are not
That far I think each from the other’s end.

The Priceless One you sold for not a lot:
the price of one escapéd slave. Yet I
just any petty lust or care will buy
with love I owe to him; his love forgot.

Dear Judas, priests through you the Christ did buy
I understand & pity for I fear
That I your course can eas’ly find quite near:
Your steps for hunger’s slake I trod & die.

Lord Christ forbid that I my feet will wend
on damning ways that Satan to me sends.

Sonnet IV The Harlot


When trapp’d in sins the night without a moon
is dark: no hope nor freedom found in lust
that fills this moment’s craving only. Trust
Alone in God can make his lovers swoon.

To Christ so now she comes. As come she must
for rest, to whom men come for passions’ fall.
So she whose empt’ing man can’t fill can call
to him whose emptying salvation thrust

to hell and every time of Terra’s ball.
His feet that soundéd first in Eden’s glen
she bathes in tears. She dries with hair & then
anointing them: her love repairs her fall.

Yet Judas fails to see this grace who soon
is damnt as dances she to Jesus’ tune.

Sonnet III – Pharisees

Ye scribes & lawyers, hypocrites ye brood
of vipers: pharisees who twirl the law
to lure a proselyte into your maw
then spit out worse; within your precepts stewed!

The Torah’s words from out your crooked craw
draw obligations far too hard to bear.
Our God’s Revealéd words for making fair
you twist in ways that Moses never saw.

But turn ye now from that corrupted fare
& belly up to God’s reforming grace
Which calls the people of another race
to make both one in his redeeming care

The Jews & Gentiles both hath God pursu’d
Would at his table both by Christ include.

Sonnet II Palm Sunday

All glory laud & honor children sing:
to thee hosanna, Lord, hosanna! Praise
we thee with them, our olive branches raise.
Thy train in triumph through the gate we bring

With garments strewn the road to glory lays:
what ails the crowd that soon they’ll turn away?
Here where we hear hosanna cried today
great hearts will fail as darkness on them preys.

O Lord prevent our hearts that make essay
of crowning Thee as Israel’s King & God
from dancing to temptation’s tunes that prod
like cattle us, thine image thus to slay.

Let us not join them as thy hands they sting
with nails & in our name they kill their king.