Thursday, April 13, 2017

Famous last words. Spy Wednesday "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

45From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice "Eli
 46About the ninth hour, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” 47When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He is calling Elijah

This week we are thinking about the power of last words, how we will hear them, replay them again and again, to find and make new meanings that will give us strength in a time of loss or separation.

In particular, we are thinking about some of those words which the evangelists give Jesus as they recount his passion. It’s worth noticing, perhaps, that there’s little uniformity in the narrative as it appears from one gospel to the next...but that each of the seven sayings which are recorded as Christ’s famous “last words” has something important to say to us, two thousand years after the event….just as those sayings made sense in the moment, when they seemed a wholly reasonable response to the situation in which Jesus found himself.

They may not always sound like good news but believe me, they are….offering light to travel by as we walk the way of the cross and strain forward for the joy of Easter morning.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Hearing these words spoken by Jesus from the cross, for a moment the world lurches and there is nowhere safe to stand.
He has been so close to God that he called him Abba – and even suggested that this closeness was possible for us as well.

But now, it seems, that God has joined the ranks of those whom Jesus believed were his friends…Mad himself scarce...slipped off into the night to avoid trouble…

Why have you forsaken me?

Dreadful, unanswerable words. What was God thinking of, to desert his own beloved Son, the sinless One

As Thomas Morley’s beautiful motet “Nolo morten

“Father, all things fulfilled and done according to your will I have”…Jesus has done everything right...not a single task left incomplete,and yet, here is Jesus, forsaken.

If he, who is one with God, feels so terribly alone, bereft and deserted at the hour of death, how can we, in our human frailty, approach our own mortality with anything but terror?
Taking our cue from St John and St Paul, we would prefer to imagine that Jesus was so intent on the glory ahead, or so fixed on the joy that was in him, that the actual process of dying was almost immaterial.

If Jesus experienced neither fear nor pain, that would offer  us hope of an equally gentle transition. But this moment of bleak desolation is hard...hard for Jesus, hard for us.

But of course, the whole point of the incarnation is that Jesus is not just fully divine but also fully human.

Dying a terrible death, replete with every kind of physical and mental suffering (that state of being that Dame Cicely Saunders dubbed “total pain”) he demonstrates conclusively God’s solidarity with humanity in every bit of the human experience. Just as his birth was neither easy nor conventional, so his death puts him outside society – and, for a time in extremis it feels as if it has put him beyond even the comfort of God’s presence.

And I'd guess it may feel like that as we stand on the edge of the unknown, as sight, sound, sensations desert us leaving us feeling very much alone...But we are not alone. Not for a moment - and neither is Jesus.
Nothing can separate us from God's love. Neither life nor death nor anything else in all creation.
Nothing can put us beyond his reach.

Not for Jesus, nor for us...but that doesn’t change the impact of our feelings – nor the impact of his. Our fears and our doubts are part of the sacrifice that he offers on the cross, and in so doing he not only declares them acceptable (if HE can wobble in his faith, then we know that he will understand our own lapses of confidence, our own free-fall descent into the kind of uncertainty that proclaims that “this was all folly), he also makes them ultimately powerless over us.

My God, my God, why have your forsaken me – is a quotation, from Psalm 22. We hear it, often, as the altars are stripped on Maundy Thursday….as the tabernacle is emptied, the church’s heart ripped out, and we go together into the darkness of Good Friday.
However, like his Jewish hearers, like that crowd that milled around Golgotha, blood-thirsty or respectful, Jesus knew that psalm moved ultimately from despair to hope and resolution.

Though the scornful cries “He trusted in God to deliver him. Let him deliver him if he delights in him” seem to take us deeper into the darkness and desolation, reminding us that for many life is indeed nasty, brutish and short; though the psalm’s graphic images of a wasted body “poured out like water” and a broken spirit, a “heart turned to wax” seem almost overpowering, yet there comes a moment when the psalmist comes to his senses again. He remembers that with God, past performance really does guarantee future results...and so, in a moment, lament is turned to praise.

And that is a gift to us all. Honesty demands that the pain and desolation must be confronted andacknowledged, so that we need never feel ashamed if we feel ourselves cut off from God at times of crisis.

But even in the darkness there is a spark of light, though it may be so faint that we can barely glimpse its gleam. We are never forsaken.This is the God who loves us so much that he allowed himself to be separated even from his own being, going through those same feelings of dereliction for us, so that we should never have to go through them alone.

Dearest Lord, whose Son endured the loneliness and darkness of the cross, so that we might enjoy eternal fellowship with you, Grant that amid life’s shadows we might know that we are never forsaken, but walk always in the light of your countenance, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

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