Holy Week Meditations: Sayings on the Cross – Ms Beverley Humphreys
Wednesday – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Welcome to St David’s this evening. May God bless us as we gather together to reflect on scripture, worship God in song and silence, and listen for God’s voice in our lives today.
We’ve probably all experienced a time in our lives when God seemed to be very far away – a time when it was impossible even to pray, except to say through the tears “Where are you? – please help me”. There’s a similar cry of utter desolation in Psalm 22
Reading: Psalm 22:1-5, 9-11
When we read instances like that in the Psalms or in Job or Jeremiah, it helps us to realize that we’re not alone in our experience – since time immemorial, others have found themselves disconnected – in a frightening, lonely place. Those words of abandonment in Psalm 22, take on an even greater significance when we discover in Mark’s Gospel that Jesus uttered them from the cross. “ Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani? My God, My God. Why have you forsaken me?” That cry echoes the despair of every man and woman in the world.
So we know that Jesus – the Christ – the beloved son of God – was torn apart by that sense of separation too, that he understands when we feel the cold grip of isolation. And yet – even in the silence – even when we can’t feel Him close by – we’re told that God is with us, every step of the way. Think of those words in the 23rd Psalm – “God’s goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our life”.
It’s a paradox constantly expressed and explored in the poetry of the Welsh priest – R.S. Thomas.
An excerpt of Threshold was read
But – what if that touch, that sense of reassurance seems to have disappeared? We hear the words, we say the words, but we can’t feel it? In Psalm 23 the writer also talks about walking in the” valley of the shadow of death” – I suppose that could be an apt description of the bleakness of many people’s lives – of our life sometimes too.
Do we ever admit that we can be honest with God about that emptiness? – do we really believe that we can come to Him, without any shame or guilt, and share our doubt, our disillusion, our despair? Maybe remembering that moment on the cross, reminding ourselves that He’s been there, that He knows about it already – that’s when we can let go and know that with God, there’s no need to pretend.
Praise and prayer
Just as I am, without one plea
but that thy blood was shed for me
and that thou bidst me come to thee
O Lamb of God I come
Just as I am, though tossed about
with many a conflict, many a doubt
fightings and fears, within, without
O Lamb of God I come
Loving God – we come to you now and
We think of those who feel totally alone and unloved,
Of those who are ashamed of something they’ve done and cannot face the disgrace.
We think of people coping with stress and compulsions, keeping it all inside, trying desperately to order the confusion of their world.
Lighten the darkness –
(All)Touch us with the honesty of your love
We think of people struggling with the effects of trauma, of those living with post traumatic stress disorder and flashbacks. We think of survivors of wars and terrorism, victims of violence, rape and abuse, and those caught up in disasters.
Lord, ease the bleakness—-
(All)Touch us with the truth of your love
Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind
sight, riches, healing of the mind
yea, all I need, in thee to find
O Lamb of God, I come
Just as I am, thou wilt receive
wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve
because thy promise I believe
O Lamb of God, I come.
We think of those whose voices are never heard, who cry silently into the empty darkness
Grieving for a lost loved one, or for a child never born.
We think of those for whom life seems to have no meaning
With no job, no home, no hope, no reason to go on living.
Lord, fill the emptiness
(All) Touch us with the warmth of your love
Just as I am, thy love unknown
Has broken every barrier down
Now to be thine, yea, thine alone
O Lamb of God, I come.
When facing the shadows of life, words often fail us.
So let us come before God in silence,
bringing our burdens and concerns before the one who listens and loves.
When dreams are shattered and hopes are dashed
When failure and exhaustion make our cross too heavy to bear
When we feel disconnected from you and from the world
Lord, Come close
(All) Touch us with the strength of your love Amen
Meditation on music and image
That image of a touching place has so many layers of significance – it probably means different things to each one of us – from the profound, unfathomable truth that God comes close and if we let him, touches every aspect of our life and our humanity – to the simple truth that a touch between two human beings can transform a moment. How often has a touch or a hug brought you a sense that someone cares about you, that you’re not alone.
Whenever I hear that hymn from Iona, I remember vividly something that happened 12 years ago. I was in Romania – in Craiova, with a group of men from the Rhondda – they were doing what they could to alleviate the suffering of the children abandoned in the orphanages – touching their lives in practical ways – providing hot water and sanitation, clean clothes and bedding, medicine and toys – all achieved with love and compassion and humour.
We spent time at an orphanage for children born with HIV. There was one little boy lying in a dirty cot – he had full blown AIDS – he was blind and they weren’t sure whether he could hear either. He was six they said – they let me pick him up – he was no bigger than a two year old. As I held him in my arms – he was very still and unresponsive. He probably couldn’t hear the words I whispered to him. I needed to make a connection with him. So I just stroked his cheek – very gently – I don’t know how long we sat there – I kept wondering what he might be feeling inside – did he know that he’d been abandoned ?- From one day to the next, no one ever touched him, except to change him. Did he know that there seemed to be no one who loved him? So many questions for which I had no answer- this scrap of humanity – despised and rejected. And then came what felt like a tiny miracle – as I went on stroking his cheek, looking into those unseeing eyes – his lips moved and he gave a little smile – in that “touching place”, he smiled.
At the heart of the suffering and pain in our broken world there is a mystery. We often pray for the illness, the problem, the desolation to be taken away- but healing takes many different forms. After the resurrection, when Jesus appeared to the disciples, the marks of the nails on his hands and feet were still there – the reality of that pain hadn’t been wiped away – but Jesus’ cry of despair on the cross wasn’t the end of the story- the silence, the darkness and the suffering did not have the last word.
Our own personal burden that sometimes seems to separate us from God, may be physical or mental illness, grief, rejection, loss- or simply despair at what’s happening in the wider world – a world that some people describe as “God-forsaken”. There are many life experiences that shake the ground we stand on and take us to the edge of that void – that state of doubt and hopelessness about the future. But love does have the power to transform. In Psalm 22 the cry of anguish, in the end, turns into a song of praise
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! 24 For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me,[f] but heard when I[g] cried to him.
What is it then that can dispel that feeling of emptiness, of separation from God ? R.S.Thomas said that he had to learn that “waiting is not despair”. It might not happen immediately but love, acceptance, gentle reassurance can lead to ways of reconnecting, of recovering a sense of self, a sense of renewed hope. Sometimes we can’t do it on our own though – we need help from God and from those around us- and we need the courage to ask for that help.
So shall we make sure that we’re sensitive to one another – that we don’t turn away with fear or indifference when we sense that someone is saying “I can’t cope – I feel so alone”. Instead can we embrace with love and understanding? Can we make that touching place? And then perhaps the “touching place” that we create for one another here, becomes part of the “touching place “ that Christ makes for the whole world.
I wonder – can we hold in balance the two thoughts? – the terrible reality of suffering and the mind-blowing truth that God is somehow in it with us, breathing love, breathing forgiveness – showing us that there is the possibility of a rediscovery of hope, a restoring of love – even “joy in the morning”. Jesus –“the wounded healer” is the one who understands best of all. He is here with us. He said ‘I am with you always, to the end of time”
Hymn: Truth of Jesus, light our darkness, All Through the Night
Time of prayer
Closing music: Karl Jenkins – Benedictus