Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Crucifixion: Marc Chagall

The Last Supper by Rainer Maria Rilke

On seeing Leonardo da Vinci's "Last Supper", Milan 1904.
Translated by Albert Ernest Flemming

They are assembled, astonished and disturbed
round him, who like a sage resolved his fate,
and now leaves those to whom he most belonged,
leaving and passing by them like a stranger.
The loneliness of old comes over him
which helped mature him for his deepest acts;
now will he once again walk through the olive grove,
and those who love him still will flee before his sight.

To this last supper he has summoned them,
and (like a shot that scatters birds from trees)
their hands draw back from reaching for the loaves
upon his word: they fly across to him;
they flutter, frightened, round the supper table
searching for an escape. But he is present
everywhere like an all-pervading twilight-hour.


God is present in the tomb of our waiting, creating the costly miracles of the victory of good, of love, of grace, of the restoration of all things.

In the centre of our waiting the seeds of our salvation are announced in small signs, in small kindnesses, in humble courage, in lives of fragile hope, in faithfulness.

God is not defeated. Life is more powerful than death. This we believe. From this will we live.
Rev Dorothy McCrae McMahon

Good Friday sermon

The Good Friday readings are about pain, not just Jesus’ pain. If the cross is about anything it is about the whole experience of creation’s suffering and about God entering into that suffering.
It is to me also about the silence of God, about, the death of God. If we fully enter into the experience of the disciples and followers of Jesus at this time we will find bewilderment, confusion and grief. Psalm 22 is a psalm about a person has been utterly cut off from God and the human community, yet who in the end, achieves some sense of peace. It has echoes to Jesus’ cry from the cross and in Gethsemane. He is feeling so bad that he no longer defines himself as human but rather as a worm. After having complained to God that God is not be found, the thought of the psalmist turns to the history of god’s people and the promises of God and in them he finds some hope and future, despite what he feels in the present.
          Psalm 22 gives expression to the unutterable despair felt by one whom circumstances have cast completely adrift from all the reference points in life and from all other persons who lend joy and hope. There is no glimmer of divine grace, except for that which memory can borrow from the past. God is gone, and God’s only presence is a distant flame.
          This is where I believe Good Friday calls us to sit. In the absence of God. It is where the disciples were. all that they believed and held dear was shattered. We usually undertake Good Friday with a real sense of the closeness of Easter and of hope and resurrection. In other words we don’t really give credibility to the crucifixion and to our pain.
For myself I am reflecting on the darkness of the cross this year. I am really conscious of the World situation.We are faced with macro dark issues like global warming but i am also deeply affected by the darkness in the kidnapping of more than 100 schoolgirls by armed militants in Nigeria. On Good Friday we are asked to put ourselves in the position of really facing the darkness as if we did not know the Easter Sunday was to come. Not to do so is to deny the reality of sorrow and pain in our world. We all live in it. We all know it in one form or another, and we all have, or have had a space in our lives when we knew at a gut level the reality of the crucifixion, without a sense of the coming resurrection. It is in this space that the disciples and followers of Jesus were in on Good Friday and Saturday. Can we allow ourselves to enter that same still sorrow and trust that it will be fruitful.

I have a peach tree in our yard that I have been giving up on for years. It has been dying back almost continually. Every year there seems more dead branches. If you looked at the tree even at the height of summer, you would see a grey gnarled old trunk with a sprout of green at a few points near the top. But in the strange way that nature works it is one of the most fruitful trees in my garden. To quote Charles Elliot … “ A spirituality that refuses to acknowledge the winter of the heart, the great sorrowfulness of human experience, is not only refusing to take seriously the life that people actually lead; it is in danger of encouraging too much leaf and too little fruit. … It is therefore important to be in touch with our sorrows, to recognise them, to honour them even. … they are the necessary period of die-back, perhaps the continuing process of die-back, which is a precondition of fruitfulness”
Rev Gordon Bannon

All they could do

All they could do, the gospel writers,
and those who crafted the stories before them
was to grope in wonder after some words.
Words to convey even a shining edge
of the full mystery.
So they wrote of angels shimmering with white,
and an earthquake that shook the very foundations
of both earth and heaven;
and of the surprise of a disappearing man
who could not be grasped
but who was strangely with them still.
Of the impossibly empty space
that death had once occupied.
They told of a stone,
the removal of which would have required a forklift,
that had apparently been flicked away by a divine finger.
They wrote of unsurpassed joy and of hope
that had been conjured ex nihilo.
They told of embracings,
of illuminating journeys and intimate dinings,
of unexpected recognitions
and equally bewildering disappearances.
Their stories included the elements of honest fear,
uncertainty, and disbelief;
as if to underline the wonder.
One who they had loved,
in whom the Divine One appeared to dwell,
and who, they all attested, had been killed;
was somehow present. Living. Decades on.
All they could do was grope in the diminished darkness,
and hope to find some words.

© Ken Rookes

Do not seek death

Do not seek death,
Death will find you.
But seek the road
That makes death a fulfilment.

Dag Hammarskjöld

Good Friday shame

On the first Good Friday,
so named some years later by people of faith;
the darkness was faced and defied;
and, in the days following, banished.
Well, not quite.
But a candle glimmer was ignited,
a hopeful something that later torrents of blackness
have never quite extinguished.
Otherwise women and men of faith
could never have survived.
Not the shame of religious wars,
diverse conquests and killing fields,
or clerical abuse of children.
And certainly not the off-shore detention camps
where human suffering and despair
are made the wretched by-product
of the vile and fearful politics
practised by some
for whom Good Friday pretends to be a sacred day.
And still women and men of faith survive
to maintain their outrageous claim:
that the darkness has somehow been diminished,
at least a little.

© Ken Rookes 2014