Sunday Sermon - 23rd March 2011

Reader - Anne CowanSermon given by Reader: Anne Cowan

'Words from the Cross'

In our reflections on the Seven Last Words of Jesus I want to share with you some of what Timothy Radcliffe says about Jesus’s cry of agony from the cross:

                                    “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” 

Is this cry to God a question without an answer? Are there any words that might allow us to understand what is happening to Jesus and what he is doing in this moment of the most appalling, physical and spiritual suffering, that might help us in the darkest moments of our lives and the lives of those we love?

The author believes there are words, in the stories of the experiences of others that can help us to understand this cry of Jesus. Timothy Radcliffe says, ‘Jesus takes these words from the beginning of Psalm 22 and makes them his own. He embraces that experience of terrifying loneliness and shares it. In doing so, even the experience of the absence of God is somehow brought within God’s own life.’ 

Turning to more recent events, we read the eye-witness account of Elie Weisel who was in Auschwitz when, worst of all the horrors he saw, they hanged two adults and a young boy, who was everyone’s favourite. Being so much lighter than the adults, he was still alive when the lined-up prisoners were made to march past their comrades and their beloved child. ‘For more than half an hour’, Weisel says, ‘the child died slowly, in agony, under our eyes - and we had to look him full in the face. I heard a man behind me ask, “Where is God now?” And I heard a voice within me answer, “He is here, on this gallows.”

Many of you will remember the kidnapping of Brian Keenan, a teacher of English in the Lebanon in the 1980s. He was held prisoner for 4½ years. In solitary confinement for the first few months, he was also frequently without light. He has written of how, ‘in his black hole under Beirut’, he felt ‘bereft of God’. It was as if without God all the meaning of his life had collapsed and been sucked out of him to leave him hovering over a void.

Few of us will ever have endured such loneliness and desolation but there may well have been times when our lives appeared to be meaningless. Then the fear that that void of untold depth, might swallow us up, can haunt our waking moments and disturb our sleep. At such times, proofs of God’s existence aren’t much help and neither are words. So what can we do when we are called to be with people who are faced with a suffering that appears pointless, absurd and meaningless? What can we do if we have to live such moments ourselves? What can we do and be when our lives suddenly seem ruined and senseless?

A few years ago we were appalled by the suffering in Iraq. At this moment we share in the anguish of the people of Japan. One day someone may ask us, “Why? Why? Where is God now?” When we find ourselves without words, will we remember Jesus’ cry from the cross and because of that know that often all we can do is to be there in that situation and trust that God is there too, though we do not know how?

The cross from Haiti goes with Timothy Radcliffe on his numerous journeys all over the world.  It was painted by a peasant from a parish in the western mountains of Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world. Under ruthless dictatorship for decades, anyone who stepped out of line would disappear, the body found 2 or 3 days later, usually in a ditch.

On this cross a path weaves its way up the central column. We don’t see journey’s end but must trust that there is one, for on that cross was nailed the one the people of Haiti call ‘The Little One of the Good God’. On the path walks a peasant with his back to us. He is alone and so, we presume, silent. Since the recent earthquake, the Haitians continue to walk the path of suffering and yet Timothy Radcliffe finds signs of hope in the exotic plants that grow along the sides of the path, and hope in the way the path leads to a tall palm tree with long fronds, whilst beyond the far off hills a new day is dawning.

This cross marks the end of Jesus’ human life and yet provides Timothy Radcliffe with a ‘sign of continuity, of a home remade on the journey’, wherever he may be going. ‘And so,’ he says, ‘this peasant travels with me and I hope that in some small way, I travel with him.’

Amen

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