“Do you seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them.”
The word has been used on at least two significant occasions in recent days.
It was used about the report into Russian interference in UK politics.
The report was said to be finished,
and then, when it was inconvenient to the Govt to publish it, it was said now to be ‘unfinished’ – in a phrase, one commentator noted, worthy of Sir Humphrey himself. What had been complete and over was now reversed, undone.
Surely, there is much that is unfinished in the world,
and we may have a natural inclination to remaining unfinished in what we are doing – and unfinished in ourselves. Like the tapestry of Penelope, there seems to be hope in habitual unravelling – unravelling of ourselves.
[And just sometimes we need to unravel things, as we have been hearing the Germans have done with their history – what in the stories we tell ourselves do we need to unravel?]
The other recent memorable use of the word ‘unfinished’ came in Janet Morley’s poem, titled ‘They have taken away my Lord’, which we heard at Midday office on Wednesday for St Mary Magdalen.
It was unfinished.
We stayed there, fixed, until the end,
women waiting for the body that we loved;
and then it was unfinished.
Mary Magdalen’s task is unable to be finished on Good Friday.
And the poetry aligns her uncompleted purpose with the breaking of Jesus’s body on the cross – bruises that no longer hurt; flesh that is silent. His human form – which was the complete man – has been made un-finished by …
well, the poem doesn’t say by what. Mary Magdalen is caught up in the loss, greater far than the causes of it.
This year 2020 has been a year of unfinished purposes, of so much that has been planned undone. And, more poignantly for many, marriages and family relationships and friendships swept away by the virus before their time. Unfinished.
Mary Magdalen speaks of ‘aching to offer his silent flesh my finished act of love’, but unable to do so.
It has been a year when the simple yearning for touch – that most characteristically human of the senses – has not been able to be satisfied.
And what of our own calling as brothers of this Community? Is it a calling that can be satisfied? Or a calling which recognises what is unfinished?
We vow conversion of life – so we are committed to change.
And we renew our commitment on this day, on St James’s day, as pilgrims on the way.
The more we walk this path, the more we become aware of how unfinished we are.
But we also vow stability: that unswayed steadfastness of purpose, that availability to God.
And we vow obedience: ‘not my will but thine be done’.
These three vows express one life – one life which already holds the seeds of its fullness.
There is something finished also when we enter into our monastic life, something which already speaks of fullness.
We are what we are supposed to be.
We are already given to what we are becoming.
I may by now have made our life sound like Derrida’s indeterminacy, or even Schrödinger’s cat – both finished and unfinished.
But what I really have in mind, as I think you will, is that one great moment on which all else depends, Our Lord’s cry on the cross, “It is finished”.
Much in the world is half-done, unsatisfactory – perhaps much for each of us in our own lives.
As Mary Magdalen puts it: ‘I am not ready yet, I am not finished’.
But all these tasks and purposes we set ourselves are overwhelmed by the one great completion, the fully human life lived unto death by Jesus, the pure faith and the unspent love. The great completion on the cross that explodes like a firework display into the Resurrection, by which we are named.
These past weeks of lockdown we have been praying that all belong together. How are we able to pray that truly?
It is not because others have taught us courage and devotion, although they have.
And it is not because Jesus is one with us all in our suffering, although he is.
No, we all belong together because there is this one moment of completion – of fullness – that overrides all that is unfinished about our humanity. As James’s bereaved brother John tells us: there is Light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overwhelmed it – not the reigns of all earth’s King Herods; not Covid-19; not any of our failures to walk by faith.
“You are witnesses of these things.”
Or as Christ Jesus himself put it to James and his brother:
‘Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?’
And they said to him, ‘We are able.’
So let us now stand.
Heavenly Father, we give you thanks for this Community of the Resurrection to which you have called us. And we dedicate ourselves and one another afresh in our common calling.
We offer ourselves with thanksgiving:
Let us bless the Lord: Thanks be to God.
We offer ourselves and our common life with penitence:
Lord, have mercy upon us: Lord, have mercy upon us.
With aspiration we dedicate ourselves and our common life and our energies afresh to you:
O Lord receive me according to your promise:
and let me not be disappointed of my hope.
Holy Father, you have redeemed the world through your mighty acts in Christ: pour your mercy upon us and all whom you have called together in the school of holy religion, that we may run in the way of your commandments. May our life be hid with Christ in God, and may we be bringers of that life to others; we ask this through your son Jesus Christ Our Lord.
Fr Oswin CR