Tuesday, 7 April 2020

The Shadows Lengthen ...

As we move onwards in Holy Week we know we are coming closer and closer to Friday.  The shadows of death in the life of Jesus lengthen and he comes closer and closer to the cross.  Today we have the third and fourth time that he spoke from the cross for reflection

The Shadow’s Lengthen, Tuesday of Holy week

Behold the life-giving cross, on which was hung the Saviour of the whole world.
Behold the life-giving cross, on which was hung the Saviour of the whole world.
Behold the life-giving cross, on which was hung the Saviour of the whole world.

Silence for Meditation

Psalm 22
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.
Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. 
In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. 
To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.
But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people.
All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
“Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver— let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”
Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.
On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God.
Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.
Many bulls encircle me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me; they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion.
I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.
For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me. My hands and feet have shriveled;
I can count all my bones. They stare and gloat over me;  they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.
But you, O Lord, do not be far away! O my help, come quickly to my aid!  
Deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the power of the dog!
Save me from the mouth of the lion! From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me. 
I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.
From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord. May your hearts live forever!
All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.
For dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations.
To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him.
Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.

Psalm Prayer: Father, your tortured Son felt abandoned, and cried out in anguish from the cross, yet you delivered him. He overcame the bonds of death and rose in triumph from the grave. Do not hide your face from those who cry out to you: feed the hungry, strengthen the weak, and break the chains of the oppressed, that your people may rejoice in your saving deeds. This we ask in the name of Jesus Christ our Saviour.

The Third Word John 19:23-27      “Woman, here is your Son”

When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.” This was to fulfill what the scripture says, “They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.” And that is what the soldiers did. Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

Reflection Song Stabat Mater Dolorosa (Maintzisch Gesangbuch)

Homily          Here is Your Son. Here is Your Mother.

In the movie the Lord of the Rings- the two towers- there is a scene between King Theoden and Gandalf the Wizard.
Theoden says “the young perish and the old linger. That I should live to see the last days of my house.
Gandalf responds “Theodred’s death was not of your making.”
Theoden responds “No Parent should have to bury their child.”

Poignant words that speak volumnes!

Jesus was still compassionately thinking of others even when hanging on the cross.
Jesus preached his most powerful sermon from that cross. The first three statements from the cross reveal an enormous and incredible love for others. In all three statements, Jesus was thinking of others. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” and in this statement Jesus was focusing on the needs of the soldiers and crowds who were ridiculing him and not on his own pain. In the second statement, Jesus was focusing on the thief on the cross when he said to the thief, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”

The same quality of love for another is found in the third statement when Jesus was concentrating on the needs of his mother and best friend. He simply said to his mother. “Here is your son.” He said to his best friend, “Here is your mother.” Jesus was telling the both of them: Take care of one another in the future when I am physically gone from you. It amazes me that while Jesus was in the midst of such enormous pain, he could think of the needs and pain of others. He focuses on the importance of having someone to travel with on the journey of grief to help console one in the midst of the loss and void that has been left when a loved one dies.

A personality is consistent in life and in death. Jesus was enormously compassionate during his life and he was enormously compassionate during his death. One thing we know about people is they are consistent. The setting was Golgotha, the place of the skull. Golgotha was at the base of a sixty-foot vertical cliff of dark mud and clay. On the face of that cliff was carved out holes so that when a person looked at that cliff from a distance, you could see two eyes and a mouth. It looked like a skull and it was called the “place of the skull.”

Who was there? The enemies against Jesus. The soldiers, the Pharisees, the crowd of gawkers. Also, the two thieves on the cross were there. Jesus’ family was also there: his mother, his aunt, his cousin, Mary was with Jesus at the foot of the cross. This would have been the most awful and gut-wrenching experience of her life, to see and experience his crucifixion on the cross. The nails that sent through his wrists. The sword that pieced his side. Jesus’ pain was her pain. That is the way it is with mothers; the mother totally feels the pain of her child, and Mary totally felt the excruciating pain of Jesus. Mary’s best friends and sister were there with her, but their love and compassion did not diminish the sadness and agony she was feeling. Her friends and sisters shared her grief, but her grief was not diminished.

One of the last acts of Jesus was to care for his mother by entrusting her future to his beloved disciple. We learn that best friends love through thick and thin, from the highest to the lowest points of life. When life is the lowest, best friends are there. When life is at the lowest and the most painful best friends are there to share the grief. That is the way it is with best friends. In fact, you count the best friends by counting those who are with you at the worst and lowest moments of life. Jesus., in the midst of excruciating pain was thinking of the two people who loved him most during his earthly life: his mother and his best friend. He asked them to care for each other in the future.

What do we learn from Jesus through these words from the cross, “Here is your son. Here is your mother?” Jesus taught us to love even when we are dying. Jesus could have been so overwhelmed by his own pain and suffering that he could have forgotten everything and everyone. But NO! Even as he suffered this agony he was thinking of the needs of others.

Hanging from the cross at Golgotha, with two thieves at his either side, with hecklers below the cross, Jesus was also surrounded by the love of two people who loved him most here on earth, his mother and his best friend. In his last act of compassion, Jesus focused on their needs and asked them to take care of each other.

Hymn  O Sacred Head, Surrounded

The Fourth Word      Mark 15:34      “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me”

At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Reflective Hymn      Throned upon the Awful Tree

Homily     My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?

The heart of King David cried out  in Psalm 22:1 and the heart of Jesus Christ in Mark 15:34 cries out.  They feel Abandoned! Deserted!  Sometime in life we will feel abandoned and there are certain feelings that come as a result. There is often sadness, disappointment, anger, and even rage. These are all normal and human. These feelings have no I.Q; they are not necessarily rational or intelligent. Feelings just are. These feelings are often directed at the person who you think abandoned you.
Sometimes during life, we also feel abandoned by God, especially when tragedies happen whether on a large scale or personally.  Let me give you some examples:

1.      From the Old Testament, King David wrote the famous words in Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” His words continue: “why are you so far from saving me Lord? Why are you so far from my groaning? Why do I cry out to you, but you do not answer?”  King David had these feelings in his heart that God had forsaken him, abandoned him, deserted him. Why? Because of the personal tragedies of his life.  David felt this way because King Saul was trying to kill him, his enemies were trying to kill him, his oldest son was trying to kill him, his family didn’t turn out very well. David was feeling down in the dumps and he wrote: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 
2.      Similarly with Job in the Old Testament. Job experienced many personal tragedies. He lost his farms, lost the animals, lost his children, lost his wife. Job lost everything. And he felt that God had abandoned him, deserted him, and Job was angry with God and even raged at God. Those feelings were all normal. 
3.      It is not only people in the Old Testament who feel that God has abandoned them. Many contemporary Christians also feel that God has abandoned them. For example, young Elie Weisel experienced the silence of God when his family was burned in a German concentration camp and he felt all alone in the world and forsaken by God. Another example, the terrorist bombing of the Trade Towers in New York. As the second plane crashed into the Tower, thousands of people were looking up and shouting, “My God, my God, what is happening? Where are you? What is going on here?” In enormous horrific tragedy, people feel abandoned, deserted and forsaken by God.  They are overwhelmed with feelings of sadness, confusion, anger and rage at what they see and experience.
4.      Present day circumstances with the Coronavirus will hear people question why this is happening? Are we being punished?  Have we been abandoned?
Knowing that people often have the experience of feeling abandoned by their loved ones and God, it is with these feelings that we approach the Gospel story.

The setting-- Golgotha, the place of execution right outside the walls of Jerusalem.
The Day --Friday, the day after Passover. 
The text tells us that Jesus is on the cross for three hours, from twelve noon to three o’clock. The sky turned dark and black, the darkest day of human history. It was approaching three o’clock on that Friday afternoon and Jesus was coming closer to his death. The Bible tells us that Jesus cried out with a shrieking shout. His voice wasn’t quiet and soft like the first three words. He spoke quietly so one could hardly hear him speak and pray, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Jesus spoke gently to the thief on the cross: “Today you will be with me in paradise”. Jesus spoke in subdued tones to his mother and his best friend beneath the cross. And then, Jesus reached into his soul and shouted to the heavens at the top of his lungs, in almost a scream, so the Greek tells us: “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabach-thani.”  The words are in Aramaic, his native tongue. Eloi, Eloi. My strong God, my strong God, why have you abandoned me, why have you deserted me, why have you forsaken me?   What can we learn from Jesus’ cry to God?

The first thing we learn is this: it is OK to have feelings and vent those feelings of abandonment, as Jesus did on the cross. To feel the pain and sadness of being abandoned by God is normal. That is the way God made us, to feel such feelings and to vent such feelings.   If it was normal and acceptable for God’s King David to feel his feelings and to vent his feelings, and he was the best king in the whole Old Testament, it is certainly normal and acceptable for you and me to feel the same way.  Job suffered more than any other person in the Old Testament, and he, too, felt abandoned, deserted, and he shouted his laments and anger towards God. It is part of humanness, to feel that way. It is OK to feel like Job.  Jesus was the very Son of God, the heart and mind of God in the flesh, and in the moment of the deepest darkness of the land and the deepest darkness of his heart, Jesus felt that God had abandoned him and he shouted his feelings to the heavens. The humanity that connects us to Jesus is revealed.

When we have similar feelings of abandonment, we are reminded here that we are in good company.  When we lose a loved one, when a relationship breaks down, when we fear all that is around us today, we are reminded here that the moment of despair is normal.

The second thing we learn from Jesus’ word is this: even in the worst situations of life, we are to cling to God with both hands as Jesus did.   We know it is easy to believe in God when life smiles on you, but it is much more difficult to believe when life frowns on you. It is easy to believe in God when the path is smooth and easy; but it is much more difficult to believe in God when your feet are blistered and the path is rocky.  Sometimes, life can be incredibly hard. In the worst and darkest day of human history, Jesus still clung to God with both hands and held onto God. We are reminded to cling to God in our darkest days. 

And what are the darkest days of human history, when the sky was blackest?
Was it 200 million people killed by Hitler, Stalin and Mao during World War II? 
Or the 137,000,000 people killed by the Black Plagues in the 6th, 14th and 17th centuries? 
Or the 100 million people in southern Africa infected with the AIDS virus by the year 2005?
Was it September 11th when 3,000 civilians were killed in one hour?
Is it this present time as we daily wait for updates about the coronavirus and its latest casualties?
Was it the day that the Son of God was executed? 

In all of those horrific tragedies, we are invited to do what Jesus did in that darkest hour, to cling to God with both hands, cry out to the heavens, shout our despair, “ My God, My God, both hands grabbing God, where are you? Why aren’t you here to protect us?”

On this God’s Friday, you will find Jesus clinging to God with all his power, with both hands, and at the same time, shouting his inner feelings up to God.  We are invited to do the same. 

The third thing we learn from Jesus’ word on the cross is that these are not his last words. The drama does not end with him depressed and emotionally exhausted. “Why have you forsaken me?” These are not his last words, not his final words, not the end of the story.  King David wrote “My God my God, why have you forsaken me” in Psalm 22.  Then immediately follows Psalm 23 “The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want.” The 22nd psalm was not David’s last word.  Job complained to God when he lost all his possessions, his family, everything. He railed against God in his anger, but those were not his last words. He also wrote at the end of his book, “I know that my redeemer lives.”  It is the same with Jesus. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.” Eloi. Eloi. These were not his last words. His last words were “It is accomplished. It is finished. It is done.” He also said, “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” Easter always trumps Good Friday.

I believe in the sun even when it is not shining;
I believe in love even when feeling it not;
I believe in God even when he is silent.
— An inscription on the wall of a cellar in Cologne 
where a number of Jews hid themselves for the entire duration of the war.

It was nearing three o’clock on that Friday afternoon. Jesus had been hanging on the cross for nearly three hours on the darkest day of the year. Suddenly, slowly, his voice penetrated the skies with a sheik and he cried, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani.” My strong God, my strong God, why have you abandoned me.” but these were not his last words.

Closing Prayers
Worthy is the lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!
Lord, by your cross and passion, free us from evil and deliver us.
Destroy the powers of darkness and deliver us
Free your creation from corruption and deliver us.
Bring us to the liberty of the children and deliver us.

The Lord’s Prayer

By the nails through your hands and feet, Give comfort to the suffering
Hear us, Lord Christ
By the crown of thorns upon your head, Give hope to the despairing.
Hear us, Lord Christ
By the spear that pierced your side, give courage to the heart- broken
Hear us, Lord Christ
By your being scorned and rejected by all, give love to the lonely.
Hear us, Lord Christ
By your time of desolation, Lift up all who are down.
Hear us, Lord Christ
By your death on the cross, Give us life which is eternal.
Hear us, Lord Christ

O Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, Word of the everlasting Father, you have borne our grief and carried the burden of our human frailty; by the power of the Holy Spirit renew in your Church gifts of healing, and send our your disciples again to preach the gospel of your kingdom, to heal the sick, and to relieve the suffering of your children to the praise and glory of your holy name. Amen

Hymn Ah, Holy Jesus, How Hast Thou Offended

The Church
Screaming souls upon the shatterable Rock
In darkness we await the crow of the cock

Ann Weems
Kneeling in Jerusalem 1992

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