The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Friday, April 6, 2012

Anglocat in the Pulpit

Every year at St. Bart's we mark Good Friday with "the Three Hours: Seven Last Words of Christ, which consists of "Meditations from the pulpit, Readings, Music and Silence, in seven 25 minute sections," and is graced by the magnificent music of the St. Bartholomew's Choir, led by Bill Trafka. The service is one of the most beautiful, but most difficult, of the year--I always find myself powerfully affected by it.

This year, to my surprise, I was invited to provide one of the seven meditations, in the form of a sermon. Our priest-in-charge Buddy Stallings (who performed La Caterina's and my wedding) allowed me every freedom to go where I chose with the text, which was "I thirst," (Jn. 19-28-29). (Buddy's own mediation was a powerful reflection on the text, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit," on how these last words can be at the core of a daily lived faith which can invest life with meaning; I'm very far from doing it justice--go and see for yourself.)

St. Barts will have the text of all of the meditations, and audio of the service on its website, and I highly recommend it--the other six mediations from St. Bart' clergy and laity really deserve attention, and the music at St. Barts is justly famous. Here is the audio of the seven meditations. But, because this is my first foray into the genre, here is the text of my meditation:


“I Thirst”

(John 19:28-29)

“I thirst.”

So says Jesus from the Cross in St. John’s Gospel. It’s a rare moment of vulnerability for Jesus in this Gospel, which stresses Jesus’s union with the Father, his unflappable serenity throughout his ministry, even throughout the Passion narrative. But here, as when he weeps at Lazarus’s tomb, Jesus’s humanity is on display. Literally laid bare for all the world to see.

“I thirst.”

Such a simple, basic need in ordinary times—like when in the same Gospel, Jesus asks the Samaritan Woman for a drink from Jacob’s well. But this isn’t any ordinary time. Of the Seven Last Words of Jesus, this is the only one that refers to the physical pain that Jesus has endured for hours. [1] The end isn’t nigh; it has arrived. Thirst in those last moments takes on an outsize power—I remember being at the bedside of my grandfather in his last illness, the last time I saw him, asking for relief with a simple need that wrung my heart. A dignified man, much loved, but with dignity thrust to the side.

Now, at the end of things, Jesus is dying, there is nothing left to do, and at last that iron self-control breaks. He asks for relief from his executioners. Surprisingly, they give it; “a diluted, vinegary wine drunk by soldiers and laborers,” called posca, offered by some of the soldiers guarding the dying criminals in a moment of kindness. [2] And, almost equally surprisingly, Jesus accepts it, just before the very end.

At first, it might seem that this last thirst, this moment of human need, has nothing to say to us. A fleeting moment of weakness of the flesh on Jesus’s part; a momentary, essentially trivial act of mercy on the part of some unknown soldier or soldiers. But maybe not. These were no doubt hard men living a hard life, in which cruelty was routine; yet something in Jesus touched them; can an act of mercy ever truly be wasted?

And Jesus has now answered his own question, “Am I not to drink of the cup the Father has given me?” [3] He does it, in faith, even though in his case the cup is one of suffering and death. This man who spoke of the blessing of “thirsting for righteousness,” now, in his last moments, “thirsts to drink that cup to the last drop, for only when he has tasted the bitter wine of death will his Father’s will be fulfilled.”[4] He has been faithful to the end.

And us? What is the righteousness we should thirst for? Isn’t Jesus walking, as we all are called to walk, the same threefold path as described by Micah—that we should do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God? We all have opportunities throughout life to show compassion, to strive for justice. But those opportunities can be isolated glimmers of light in the dark, like the gift of wine the soldiers gave Jesus, or they can form a pattern in life, around which we form our very selves. They can be haphazard, or integral to our efforts to and live the authentic life, the abundant life, to which God is calling us.

Micah’s third test of righteousness—walking with God—that’s where abundant living has shown itself in my own path. When I have actually focused on discerning the life that God calls each of us to, the unique path each of is called to travel, I have been most myself, alive, and vital. It’s an ongoing task, with many hardships, puzzles and joys along the way. There have been false starts, mistakes, and misjudgments, and I’m not alone there. Loss and even tragedy will still meet us all. But they, an dour own failings, take on a new significance in the context of a whole life, one in which our walk with God can be the focus around which all our acts of mercy, our efforts on behalf of justice are gathered. They look as different then as Good Friday does from the perspective of Easter—as we continue our journey out of darkness and into light.

God is here, and Christ is now.

I thirst, Jesus said. May we all.


[1] William Temple, Studies in St. John’s Gospel, First and Second Series (1945) at 368.
[2] Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John XIII-XX1 (1970) at 909 (Anch. Bib. Vol. 29A); William Temple, Studies, op. cit.
[3] Jn. 18: 11.
[4] Brown, The Gospel According to John, at 930.

Edited to add link to the audio at St. Bart's website.


Unknown said...

Here is here and now is now all is here and now, and then we dream. And then we live that life which is seemingly an "uncontrolable enterprise". Yet I believe we are called to be responsible for our "dream lives".

I am not there. Sometimes, it is as if I still drink. Dream life passes and I have no recollection.

Sorry John, I must apologize, for I do not wish to draw any from where your prose might lead.
It's just that I find the struggle of "being" mirrors your own doubts and struggles.

May peace and oneness always find you.


Anglocat said...

You're always welcome, Jim...glad to hear from you.