Sunday March 20, 2016
11:00 am - Saint Thomas Church
Preacher: Fr Turner
"I may tell all my bones."
We have just heard the story of the events leading to the death of Jesus according to St Matthew. We call it ‘The Passion’ and passion comes from the word for ‘suffering.’
The gospels tell us a great deal about Christ’s passion - his suffering, and the manner of his death. Death is something we wish to avoid; our bodies are designed to keep on going even when they suffer trauma and we are unconscious but, eventually, they either wear out, get sick or broken or end violently. Many of you know what it is like to sit at the bedside of a loved one who is dying and to hear the sounds of the body fighting the inevitable process; we avoid talking about it even though it is part of being human.
In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus experienced that same fear – of the inevitability of death and the suffering that might come before.
When someone dies and we are not present, we often want to know the details – every detail. When my mother died, my children were not present but they wanted to see her and they wanted to know exactly what happened – they even wanted to touch her. This is very natural and the account of the Lord’s Passion is one of the most wonderful things that the Gospel writers have done for us; they have shared all the details because we were not there.
Psalm 22, which the gentlemen will sing on Maundy Thursday as the altar is stripped and washed, contains the verse “They pierced my hands and my feet; I may tell all my bones: they stand staring and looking upon me.” (v.17). Knowing the details (I may tell all my bones) is such an important part of the grieving process. That is why when someone dies suddenly or, worse, when somebody’s body is never recovered it can leave feelings of utter disbelief – The Tsunamis of 2004 and 2011 or the Holocaust of World War 2 or the missing people that Amnesty International reminds us that we should never forget - terrible crimes against humanity.
What do you do when you cannot ‘tell all my bones’?
Last week I mentioned the great visionary painter, Stanley Spencer. Between 1939 and 1954 during a personal crisis in Spencer’s life, with very little money and with the Second World War raging around him, he sealed himself in a bare room in London to create forty square panels depicting each day that Christ spent in the wilderness. The idea was that each work would be displayed, in turn, during Lent. There is one panel that I am constantly drawn to, entitled ‘Christ and the scorpion.’ Jesus sits on the ground holding a small scorpion in his hands; they are swollen – perhaps the scorpion has stung him - his face looks deeply troubled. I am drawn to Gethsemane and the juxtaposition of the dangerous creature and the power of love.
Human beings are capable of terrible cruelty and evil which mars the image of God that is in each one of us. Human beings are equally capable of selfless and heroic acts that reveal the power of love – God’s love. The Songs of Songs in the Old Testament puts it so well:
“Love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire,
a raging flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.” (Song of Songs 8:6b-7)
The power of love is most perfectly revealed in the life and death of Jesus Christ. If it were not, then what we intend to celebrate next Sunday will be a sham – a cheat. In Jesus, God experienced human grief and suffering. In Jesus, God experienced cruelty and torture. In Jesus, God experienced rejection and abandonment. In Jesus, God even experienced what the United Nations calls ‘enforced disappearance’. Only, it was not possible for this disappearance to be enforced by the sinfulness of humankind – and that is why Easter is all the more powerful to us as Christians, and why all of us should make every effort to be here at least on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.
Holy Week is the liturgical expression of the proof of God’s love and forgiveness. Why did God do this? Why didn’t Jesus call on the angels in the Garden? Why did he have to die?
Let me share with you an old proverb, retold by Henri Nouwen:
“One morning, after he had finished his meditation, the old man opened his eyes and saw a scorpion floating helplessly in the water. As the scorpion was washed closer to the tree, the old man quickly stretched himself out on one of the long roots that branched out into the river and reached out to rescue the drowning creature. As soon as he touched it, the scorpion stung him. Instinctively the man withdrew his hand. A minute later, after he had regained his balance, he stretched himself out again on the roots to save the scorpion. This time the scorpion stung him so badly with its poisonous tail that his hand became swollen and bloody and his face contorted with pain.
At that moment, a passerby saw the old man stretched out on the roots struggling with the scorpion and shouted: "Hey, stupid old man, what's wrong with you? Only a fool would risk his life for the sake of an ugly, evil creature. Don't you know you could kill yourself trying to save that ungrateful scorpion?"
The old man turned his head. Looking into the stranger's eyes he said calmly, "My friend, just because it is the scorpion's nature to sting, that does not change my nature to save." (Seeds of Hope page 124)