Forsaken

From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli,[a] lama sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
(Matthew 27: 45-46)

Forsaken. Abandoned. Deserted. 

Jesus hangs, laid bare for all to see, broken for all to mock, dying for all to live. Jesus hangs, forsaken. First abandoned by his friends, and now his God deserts him. Our God deserts him.

Jesus cries in pain, the pain we cause in our separation from God. The pain we feel because of our own separation from God. The pain we embrace each time we sin. 

We look at the cross today. We see Jesus feel forsaken. And I wonder if, in this current time, we feel forsaken too. Jesus was never separated from the Father, he merely allowed himself to enter into the experience of sin itself. We see in these words on the cross, an entering into the human experience of separation from God. 

Just 15 weeks have passed since Christmas, when we celebrated Immanuel: God WITH us. We are a resurrection people. A people who know that ultimately God IS with us. And yet we are a Good Friday people too. Just as we have many hours of lockdown left, we have many hours of forsakenness before our resurrection celebration on Sunday morning. We have hours in which we can, as Walter Brueggeman challenges us, reflect on the fake promises of the world around us, and on the truth of our lives before the holiness of God. 

NT Wright writes, “the mystery of the biblical story is that God also laments.” We are not alone in our feelings of forsakenness and grief. God IS with us. As we dwell in abandonment until the resurrection of Easter morning, as we fix our eyes on Jesus’ forsakenness, may we see clearly our own abandonment and that of others. 

The loud cry will turn to loud praise. But before that, it is a loud cry. It is a loud cry for all the abandoned. It is a loud cry for all the sick. It is a loud cry for all those in our world who are yet to know the truth of Immanuel. 

This loud cry of forsakenness can be our cry this Easter. It tears the temple curtain in two, it is so powerful. And behind the curtain, revealed to us, is the God who turns the world the right way up. And he chooses to do this through weakness. As we sit at the cross, may we hear Jesus cry, may we be reminded of our own weakness, as we ask God’s spirit to cry within us today. 

Stepping into Freedom

Last week I wrote about freedom, which you can find here. Shortly after I’d hit the publish key, it all changed in the UK: our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, put us into lockdown. Yet, our freedom to choose remains.

Yesterday evening, after a very long day solo-parenting, I went for a walk. More precisely, I put my coat on, grabbed my earphones, plugged them into some loud worship music, shoved my trainers on and ran out of the door. Before too long I reached a railway bridge and walked underneath, just as a train shuddered across above me.

It was strange. Here I was, singing along to the lyrics:

“I am chosen, not forsaken. I am who you say I am.
You are for me, not against me. I am who you say I am.”

(Who You Say I Am, Hillsong Worship)

Yet, I’d reached the evening of a day questioning all of that. You’ve chosen me, God? Really? You’re with me, God? Really? You say who I am, but who even am I? The reply comes:

“I’m a child of God.
Yes I am.”
(Who You Say I Am, Hillsong Worship)

How could I, even for a moment, question all that I know to be true? As I walked under the bridge, with the train juddering across, I didn’t doubt for a moment that the bridge would hold and not crush me as I walked beneath. It struck me, in that moment, that I trust human engineering readily and yet in the last week have not been entirely trusting of God.

Stepping into freedom requires us to let go of whatever we are holding on to, and trusting God to hold it for us. What has struck me since my walk is that I keep saying, “I’m just about clinging on.” Clinging on to what? It certainly isn’t God, in spite of my daily prayer and study of the Bible. Perhaps I am in mourning for the things lost? Clinging on to the what could have beens and what should have beens. Perhaps I am in denial around how little control I actually have over all of this? Clinging on to the control I do have. Perhaps it is something else that I am clinging to.

This week I’ve been on virtual retreat with some friends from college and we’ve been thinking about the idea of coming home with Jesus. One of the threads which has come up for us all is this idea that Jesus breaks all that binds us, in order that we can be free. In this new rhythm of life, I need to spend some time thinking about what it is that I am holding on to. And then I need to let go of it and entrust it to God.

Just as that bridge held as the train rattled across, God’s love for us all holds even as the impact and ripples of Covid-19 are felt in our lives. However you’re feeling right now, know that God is with you and for you.

“No one will be able to stand against you as long as you live. For I will be with you as I was with Moses. I will not fail you or abandon you.”
(Joshua 1: 5, New Living Translation)

Freedom

“Mummy, what does freedom mean?” asked my 4 year old last week.

We then had a good (long) conversation about being free. Free to do what we want. Free from people telling us what to do. Free from things that control us. She had many more questions, like can I wear what I want? Eat what I want? Do what I want?

That’s when the conversation went somewhere a bit deeper. After explaining that mostly mummy and daddy choose her food to make sure she keeps growing big and strong, I reassured her that she could mostly choose her own clothes. I then told her that soon we’d have to not leave the house. We wouldn’t be able to go to nursery, or church, or the park. Her response?

“Why aren’t we free?”

Wow. These questions have stayed with me all week. It’s tricky, isn’t it? Yet, I explained to her that we are still free. Even if we don’t go out of the house. We are free and we have freedom.

  1. Freedom of choice.
    Right now we have freedom to choose how we act as people in a society made up of the vulnerable and invulnerable. We can choose to use our freedom to gather in groups, go to work unnecessarily, travel on public transport for no reason, or spend time with friends in person. Or, we can choose to use our freedom to stay at home, play games, work from home, find ways to keep in touch with people. We can choose to use our freedom to stay at home and keep the vulnerable safe. We can choose to flatten the curve. We can choose to honour those who have no choice but to keep working in our hospitals, schools, police, energy services.

    We have freedom to choose.
  2. Freedom from fear.
    And secondly, regardless of current situation, we have freedom from fear. When he was alive and teaching on this earth, Jesus said: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10, NIV) Right now, there is a lot of fear, anxiety and panic across the world. It has seeped into our homes and is the thief which Jesus refers to. This thief will steal, kill, and destroy hope. If we let it.

    We have freedom to choose. Freedom to chose hope. Freedom from fear. If we put our trust in Jesus, he will give us life in its fullness. If we put our trust in Jesus, he will give us true freedom. If we put our trust in Jesus, he will give us a hope and a peace which passes all understanding.

The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 4)

Mothering Sunday & Covid-19

Today it’s Mothering Sunday. It’s also the first Sunday that churches across the Church of England have been unable to meet, since Covid-19 stretched its disastrous legs over the waters to our small green island.

Mothering Sunday is, unlike in the USA, a tradition of the Church. It has no fixed date, as it falls during Lent (and Lent / Easter changes each year). Mothering Sunday was, historically, the day when everyone would visit their ‘mother church’ – either their nearest parish church, cathedral or the church where they were baptised as an infant. Later, it came to mean the day during the year when domestic servants were given the day off to visit their ‘mother church’, as well as their own mothers. On their way home, children would pick wildflowers to give as gifts to their mothers. Within time, this religious tradition became a secular one, where children across society now give presents to their mums.

So what’s Mothering Sunday got to do with Covid-19 (Coronavirus)? Well, we were called to prayer from 7-8pm today (Sunday 22nd March 2020), by the Archbishop of Canterbury. A national day of prayer where we all, across the Christian tradition, join in prayer to our faithful and good God.

Towards the end of my time of prayer I sang loudly on my own in my living room, with a candle flickering. I felt an urge to sing the song “Shout to the Lord”, so I found it on my phone and began to sing. Before I knew it, I was crying as I declared:

Shout to the Lord, all the earth let us sing
Power and majesty, praise to our King.
Mountains bow down and seas will roar at the sound of his name.

(Darlene Zschech, Shout to the Lord)

This is the power of the God who loves us: mountains bow down before him; seas roar at the sound of his name. This virus, though a mountain to us, is nothing.

And so, to Mothering Sunday: a return to our home church. Perhaps now is the time for us all to return to our home churches. The church where you were baptised. Your nearest cathedral. Your local parish church. Maybe you don’t know where yours is. You can find out here: https://www.achurchnearyou.com Maybe you’ve never been to church before. You are welcome. Maybe you’re thinking, but they’re closed. They are, but many are meeting online – via Facebook, Youtube or their own websites.

Come. Come back to church. Join us, as we pray that our God would breakthrough in this place and at this time. Come, find rest. Come, find the God who causes seas to roar and mountains to bow. Come, find Jesus.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

(Matthew 11:28-30, MSG Version)