5 April 2023 - CITW
5 April 2023 A Candle in the Window Peter Millar
We journey in the Easter Hope - Reflections on the words from the Cross.
Some of these reflections are written by me, and others by close friends, David Rhodes, Jan Sutch Pickard, Caro Penny, Alison Swinfen and David McNeish. They were part of a book ‘We Journey in Hope’ written by Neil Paynter and myself and published by Wild Goose Publications a few years ago.
‘Forgive them, Father.
They don’t know what they are doing’
Throughout the centuries, theologians and biblical scholars have reminded us that these words of Jesus are in a sense a nutshell of the whole Gospel. They bring us to the mind and heart of God. Here in this situation of agony, Jesus, hanging on a rough cross, looked around at all who mocked him, and in tenderness invited God to forgive both their cruelty and their ignorance. Many of those gathered around the cross that day did not know what they were doing – in fact they had not the slightest clue as to what they were doing. They were blinded. Just as we are also constantly without sight or understanding in our own lives, or in Brian Wren’s words, ‘half-free, half-bound’. Like many of those at the foot of the cross, we too are swept along by forces which often desensitise us. How else can we explain the contemporary abuse of planet Earth and our corporate refusal to live more simply that others may survive? pm
‘I Promise you that today you will be in Paradise with me.’
These second words from the Cross are propelling us to reach out across these soul-destroying barriers – as Jesus did all through his ministry – and to discover in multiple ways a wider knowledge of the divine. A task which holds enormous challenges and asks of us profound spiritual insights. It is a task for all the great religious traditions of the world and for all those who hold no formal belief in a God but who love humanity. And it is, thankfully, a task already begun in millions of human hearts. It cannot be otherwise when we know that every day, in every place on earth, people of all faiths and of none are challenging the voices of violence, of oppression and of injustice through acts of self-sacrifice, of courage and of risk-taking compassion.
‘Woman, here is your son ...
Here is your mother.’
Rowan Williams the former Archbishop of Canterbury reflects on his experience:
‘Someone who is about to die in terrible anguish makes room in their mind for someone else; for the grief and terror of someone they love. They do what they can to take some atom of that pain away from the other by the inarticulate message on the mobile. That moment of ‘making room’ is what I as a religious person have to notice. It isn’t ‘pious’, it isn’t language about God; it’s simply language that brings into the world something other than self-defensiveness. It’s a breathing space.’ Quoted by Prof Alison Swinfen.
‘My God, my God, why did you abandon me?’
The words of this powerful prayer were written by my friend David Rhodes:
‘Loving Father, this isn’t a prayer so much as a car crash. They always happen as if in slow motion. First there’s the terrible sound of the impact, the breaking of glass and pieces of metal flying everywhere. And then, for a moment, there is silence.
The impact is when he says those words: ‘My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?’ And the world seems to fall apart and there’s wreckage everywhere.
It tears at our hearts to see someone we love in pain. But what hurts even more is the knowledge that it’s not you but we who have forsaken him. When we see him in our neighbour, hungry and naked, and we walk past on the other side.
And the realisation of our failure feels like the end of everything. And there is silence. But it’s not the end. Because in the silence we hear the sound of someone running. Running towards us. A Father running to embrace a beloved child.
‘ I thirst’
This is the last stanza of a longer poem written by my friend the writer and poet and campaigner Jan Sutch Pickard who like me has had the privilege of being Warden of Iona Abbey and now lives on the beautiful Isle of Mull.
The soldiers raise a sponge soaked in sour wine, vinegar,
to his parched lips. It is as sharp
as the barbed wire and the minefields along the Jordan;
as cheap as booze which people drink to forget
and as stale as a marriage that doesn’t work out;
as bitter as the divisions between men and women,
rich and poor, races, different faiths;
it silences the cry for justice
and it leaves a bad taste in the mouth;
it is as numbering as our guilt, as our fear of being loved.
This man’s life was living water. Is this the last word? I thirst.
‘It is finished!’
Words of Caro Penny, recently appointed Warden at Iona Abbey:
But can’t there be another, deeper meaning? That that which is finished resonates with a sense of accomplishment, fulfilment? Of the twenty-two Bible versions I looked up, only two used ‘accomplished’ and one used ‘fulfilled’ (the rest translated the Greek as ‘finished’ or ‘done’). I find these two words hold a truth we may know intuitively but that we need to hear and speak aloud ourselves. Jesus knew his life was not only a gift from God – ‘You are my Son, whom I love. I am pleased with you!’ – but a gift to be developed and shared for the sake of bringing closer God’s Reign of Unconditional Love. That, after all, is God’s mission. ‘It is finished!’ is surely a cry that he has accomplished his part in that mission. A part which, for me, is unique and remarkable given its long-lasting and worldwide effect. But it does not end there. There is no full stop. Whatever we may understand by resurrection (which for me is a living mystery) Jesus’s life and Jesus’s words from the Cross are sacraments of freedom and hope. Sacraments that it is now risk and joy and purpose to live out in our lives – not simply as truths to be believed but as truths to be incarnated again and again, infused and embraced by the same Hoy Spirit that infused and embraced the Man from Nazareth. How far are we willing to allow that infusion and embrace to draw us ever deeper into God’s Reign of Love?
“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world”. Saint Teresa of Ávila 1515 - 1582