Friday, 6 April 2012

Good Friday, Shaftesbury

Jn 18:1-19:42
Among the many things we just heard in that account of the Passion was about how Our Lord’s side was “pierced with a lance”(Jn 19:33), a wound to join the wounds already made by the nails in His hands and feet.
Catholic devotion has often focussed on the wounds of Jesus and I want today to say a word about what it means to ‘hide’ in those wounds –a phrase used in many prayers, and as we’ll sing later in the service when we sing the ever-popular hymn ‘Soul of my Saviour’: “Deep in Thy wounds Lord, hide and shelter me”.

Having a shelter as place to turn to in difficulty is perhaps something we might not think about too much if we live in secure houses, and even more if we work indoors. But for those of us who work outdoors on the land, and even more so for the Scriptural context of someone like a shepherd spending many hours outdoors at the mercy of the weather, to have a shelter when a storm comes over is very important. So, a cleft in the rocks that you can hide in, a cave you can shelter in, a home where you will be welcome –all these are very important.
And there are many things in life we must shelter from that are not just the weather: Problems at work, with family, of loneliness, of sickness. Is there a shelter we can hide in from these and other ‘storms’?
It is in the wounds of Christ that we can securely ‘hide’ and ‘shelter’.

Now, before I say anything more, let me concede that to some people it might seem a little grotesque or messy to speak of ‘hiding ‘ in the wounds, wounds that bled, so let me note a distinction: between the wounds as reality and the wounds as symbol.
As something to hide in, the wounds are symbolic -I cannot enter them physically.
But those wounds matter as a symbol BECAUSE of the reality they refer to: the real physical wounds on His body. These matter as symbol because of what they so powerfully testify to: His love for me, and, also vitally important, His power to aid me.
They are a sign of His power because of the Resurrection. As you recall, after His Resurrection He displayed His wounds to His disciples and He even had doubting Thomas put his hand into His side and his fingers into the holes in His hands. Those wounds still exist in His Risen body. Yet, in His risen and glorified state those wounds are not like wounds in OUR bodies –those wounds bleed and suffer no more. Those wounds thus testify to His power, to all He has conquered by His Resurrection.
This matters because we need somewhere secure and powerful to shelter in from life’s storms, and His power testifies that His wounds are places of such power and security.

But today, on Good Friday, let me return to the first of those things that His wounds signify, namely, His love for me.
There is little value in having a shelter that is powerful to hide in unless we know that we will be welcome there. What His wounds show is that we ARE welcome. His wounds show that He loves us enough to die for us, for me and for you. His wounds show that He welcomes us not because we are worthy of shelter, but simply because He wishes to shelter us: “He died for us while we were still sinners” (Rom 5:8).

One final thought, Who is doing the hiding? Who is sheltering us from the storm? We are not sheltering ourselves, no, He is the one active and strong and caring, He is the one who is sheltering us. As that hymn puts in, “Deep in Thy wounds Lord, hide and shelter me”.
As Scripture puts it, “He will hide me in His shelter in the day of trouble”(Ps 27:5). Yes, it may well be that we turn to Him, as indeed we must for Him to aid us, but He is the one who does the sheltering.

So, whatever my problems in life, whatever storms beset me, let me turn to His wounds, that He might “hide and shelter me”.

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