I couldn’t have been more than 4 or 5 at the time. It was a gorgeous summer day and I was out making my rounds of the neighbourhood. I stopped in to see Mr. Ratcliffe who lived three doors down from us. He was a friend and a contemporary of my grandparents and I must have been a frequent visitor to his garden as he wasn’t surprised to see me that day. I headed in through the back gate and found him down on his hands and knees weeding. He greeted me with a smile and called out to me: “Hello Jim!” At that I pulled myself up to my full 3 foot something height, looked him in the face and said sternly, “My name’s not Jim, its Jamie!” And with that I turned around and walked out. Clearly the story got back to my family as it and my reply have become one of the family stories told and remembered frequently over the years. It particularly delighted my father who would push the irony of the story to its limits, because, after all, Mr. Ratcliffe’s name was of course, Jim! And my grandmother’s nickname was, of course, Jim
Br. Curtis Almquist reads an ancient homily for Holy Saturday.
Something strange is happening—there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.
He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him, Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “And with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”
I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now, by my own authority, command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.
For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.
See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed to you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.
I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.
Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.
Tonight I want to talk about redemption. It’s also the eve of St. Patrick’s Day, so as I begin my reflection on this theme my mind turns to Ireland, with thanksgiving to God for the work of redemption which has happened over these past years among the people of Northern Ireland.
I spent three summers working in Belfast at the height of the troubles. I saw the ravages of broken relationships, divided communities, fear, suspicion and despair. But I also met extraordinary people who gave of themselves sacrificially to offer reconciliation, hope and redemption to a people in great pain. There have always been such people in Ireland who have given of themselves in order to mend what is broken, to redeem what is lost. In those months when I lived in Ireland I heard time and time again a story which is very dear to me, and speaks to me very profoundly about the deep mystery of our subject this evening. It’s a story which took place in the 15th century in Dublin. Two clans were locked in bitter conflict: the Ormonds and the Kildares. There was a lot of violent killing, and there came a point where the leaders of the Ormond clan locked themselves inside the chapter house of St. Patrick’s Cathedral to escape death. For many weeks the Kildare clan waited outside, swords drawn, besieging them. But one day something amazing happened. The Earl of Kildare “came to himself,” and said to himself, “This is foolish. We are two families: we believe in the same God, and here we are acting foolishly.” So he walked to the cathedral, approached the great door of the chapter house, and shouted. “Let’s call this off. Let us shake hands.” But there was no answer.
What he did next has gone down in Irish history. With his sword, he began to gouge a hole through the wood of the door. When the hole was big enough, he thrust his hand and his arm through it. (On the other side there were desperate men with swords.) And his hand was grasped by the hand of the Earl of Ormond. They shook. The door was flung open, and the feud was over.
This was an extraordinary act of courage, risk and sacrifice; a great act of redemption; an image of the redemption wrought by God. For in Jesus Christ, God thrust the divine hand of friendship, forgiveness, reconciliation, and redemption, through the great door separating us from God. And we grasped the hands of Jesus, those hands of love, and hammered nails through them, and hung him on a cross to die. To those looking on it seemed that this man’s life and mission were a miserable failure. Yet, and this is the heart of it, a deeper mystery was silently at work. Through the death of Jesus Christ a far deeper and cosmic act of redemption was actually taking place – the redemption of humanity from sin and death. As the Letter to the Ephesians puts it, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us.” Eph. 1:7
I wonder how the other disciples felt when Jesus called Levi, a tax collector, to become one of the twelve. I can imagine them rolling their eyes and shaking their heads and thinking, “What is he doing? If he wants this movement to go anywhere, why would he choose someone who will be distrusted and even hated by the people because of his association with Roman oppression? This is not going to make our life any easier!” Some of them – maybe all of them – must have questioned Jesus’ judgment. I doubt that Levi was a popular choice.
Maybe you can think of someone in your life that you would just as soon not have in your life: an obnoxious co-worker, perhaps, or a constantly complaining neighbor, or an impossible boss, or a disreputable or embarrassing relative. Maybe you’ve found yourself wanting to distance yourself from them. Perhaps you find yourself thinking, “My life would be so much easier if he didn’t work here, or if she wasn’t part of this committee, or if I didn’t have to deal with them.”