Tuesday 18th February, Evening Prayer
In Jesus Christ, we have certainty, hope, and life; for He freely bestows these things and so much more on us, chiefly by His Salvific action we read in tonight’s Gospel reading, by and through His grace and love. He is Sufferer, Sacrifice, and Saviour.
We know these things, and we rejoice in these things. I think though that this may be easier to remember sometimes than at other times. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels both shocked and pained by the tragic death of the former TV presenter Caroline Flack, aged forty, and also that of Fr. Evan Harkins, a Roman Catholic priest who tragically died in January, aged thirty-four.
I think I’m also fairly safe in distancing some elements from tonight’s reading from Ecclesiastes from applying to these people, or indeed to anyone else who has died in such circumstances. We may not know what these people may have thought or felt at times of their lives on Earth – but what we can be certain of is that our response should be one of prayer, compassion, and love – reflecting the example of compassion and love our Intercessor Jesus Christ has for all of His Sheep – all of us – and all of God’s creation.
It’s natural at times to feel as though we are alone. Perhaps you’ve been at the back of a pack of runners in a cross country race, watching the runners ahead of you gaining speed and distance in front of you (a bit like me when I picked up an ankle injury during a race on Wimbledon Common a few years ago). Perhaps your friend accidentally forgot to invite you to their birthday Formal; perhaps you were the last to be told of something which actually has an impact on your day-to-day life, while less so the others who were all told well in advance. All of these, and lots of other potential scenarios – no matter how trivial or profound they may be – might well invite of one the despairing response, “Why me?”. Indeed, we might, at such times, feel as if we are alone.
But we are not alone. No-one is ever completely alone; and there is the One in whom we hope and have hope, who supremely understands what sometimes others cannot fully comprehend. The One who understands all things, being the bearer of all Wisdom, is our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Jesus suffered extensively in His life, and He knows exactly what one experiences if and when they suffer – even to an infinitely further degree – and I think we can draw great comfort from that. In Mark and Matthew’s accounts of the death of Jesus, Christ utters the words “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which translated from the Aramaic is “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”.
Jesus was in pain – and He wasn’t trying to avert or retreat from the suffering or the death He knew he was experiencing, by this point. But neither did His faith waver – even there on the cross – if one accepts the popular consensus among many scholars that Jesus was in fact reciting the beginning of Psalm 22 with these words, a Psalm which concludes with rejoicing at being delivered from suffering by God. Jesus kept His eyes firmly fixed on our Heavenly Father; let us likewise keep our eyes firmly fixed on Him.
Since the Seven Ecumenical Councils – in particular the Council of Chalcedon (451) – the Church has formally understood Jesus, the second Person of the Trinity, to be both fully human and fully divine. This isn’t a half-and-half combination – but He is one hundred percent perfectly, wholly human, and one hundred percent perfectly, wholly divine.
Now, many will take the view that Jesus’s divinity is seen especially in His miracles – like when He heals the sick, walks on water, and feeds the five thousand and the four thousand. Similarly, many will observe Jesus’s humanity at times when He shows His emotions, such as when he weeps at the death of Lazarus in John’s Gospel, or when Jesus is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. Certainly I often take these views – and there’s nothing at all wrong about that, for it is sound doctrine.
But there is another view that I think is equally important to consider – and perhaps especially important. This is the view that Jesus’s human emotions especially showcase His divinity. When Jesus displays such powerful emotions, it demonstrates the full and perfect extent of His Incarnation – something which only God Himself could do – God’s free choice to wholly embrace His creation, bringing us to Him.
It demonstrates the full and infinite extent of God’s love; His choice to be with us; to empathise with us; to suffer, die and rise for us. It is God’s own, free choice to lovingly heal us, by and with His grace – whether here on Earth, or closer to the risen Jesus today.
And only God knows how each one of us can be healed, and how me might need to be healed; for only He is omniscient. Sometimes we might know these things too, especially if you’re a medical doctor; but only God truly knows all things. And He knows us fully – how reassuring!
God is always with us; for He is omnipresent, at all times and in all places. And perhaps especially so when we receive Him, our Saviour Jesus Christ, in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar – the Mass – when we ourselves are called and invited by Him to participate in the one, perfect and sufficient Sacrifice He Himself made for us, to grant us assurance of salvation.
We are all made and called by God; how do we respond to our callings? At Pilate’s Trial of Jesus – or Jesus’s Trial of Pilate, one could argue – how far does Pilate respond to Jesus’s call? I don’t know about you, but I think he responds as best as he was able to, while probably experiencing a whole array of different emotions simultaneously – some of which include a sense of duty, spontaneous confusion, a longing for justice, a great curiosity, fear, and – eventually – decided and committed reverence to Christ the King.
We are all made and called by God. We are all made to love, and called to love; and to show compassion and love to and for our neighbours, especially in times of need or want. And we are so fully equipped to show this love and kindness for others; for God Himself has shown us this love perfectly towards us, and we follow Him and His example in His Wisdom – for He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Where is our love – and our help – needed today?
How wonderful and generous our God is. How wonderful and generous He makes us. Let us always, as best as we can,
Will Lyon Tupman, Ely Diocese