Sean Connery had been scouring Israel for ancient musical instruments. When asked about his progress, he replied, "I've only found one shofar."
On Rosh Hashana, the Jews blow a shofar or ram’s horn. It makes a sound that may startle or scare the listener. My hope is that this instrument may startle us into noticing something really important.
In reflecting on Ash Wednesday themes this year, I was struck by the reminder of how short our physical life is and how long our existence shall be. That chord struck me like the startling sound of the shofar.
Good Friday will doubtless put us in touch with our biggest anxiety, facing death and the pain that will accompany it. Even there, peace comes from putting our trust in the Lord. Let me share a true story showing how this is possible.
As Father Tony Williams lay dying of cancer, he related this experience to his Father Superior. As he tried to pray, Tony gazed at the crucified Christ. Suddenly, “I felt myself drawn into the picture and I found myself on Calvary, at the moment when Jesus was being crucified.
“Imagine my shock when one of the soldiers’ faces was mine. And I asked the Lord, ‘Have I been that terrible? Is it possible that my sins are crucifying you?’ And Christ turned to me and said, ‘Tony, whatever they are, your sins are forgiven. My peace I give to you.’”
Then Tony said, “The face, my face, on that soldier disappeared, and I kind of came out of it. And ever since I have found that enormous peace, that peace that is in the gospel, that Jesus spoke of.”
Tony’s final wish: “My wish for you is the peace I have received from knowing that Jesus not only died for my sins, but that he loves me with such an incredible love.” We need the peace that the crucified Christ gives us.
Let me share another story that can illustrate the kind of peace that can look death in the eye. Long ago a man announced a contest to produce the perfect picture of peace. Artists from everywhere took part.
On the day of judging two finalists emerged. The first revealed a mirror-smooth lake reflecting lacy, green birches under the soft blush of the evening sky. Along the grassy shore a herd of sheep grazed undisturbed. Was this the winner?
The crowd gasped at the final painting. A tumultuous waterfall cascaded down a rocky precipice. Stormy clouds threatened to explode with lightning, wind and rain. In the midst of the thundering noises and bitter chill, a spindly tree clung to the rocks at the edge of the falls. One of its branches reached out in front of the torrential waters as if foolishly seeking to experience its full power.
A little bird had built a nest in the elbow of that branch. Content and undisturbed in her stormy surroundings, she rested on her eggs, with her eyes closed and her wings ready to cover her little ones. (from Berit Kjos, A Wardrobe from the King).