Reflection for Maundy Thursday - 14th April 2022
This year as we approach the Great Three Days I have been sitting with the question ‘why?’. Why so much violence and suffering? Why do we still consider war the way to deal with our disputes? The war in Ukraine has brought this into particular focus this year but always there is war somewhere. Innocent people suffer, their homes and livelihoods destroyed, their family and friends killed. In many other ways too we see relentless suffering. We want an answer as to why this is so.
This evening we join with the Jewish people in remembering God’s act of liberation of the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt. The whole journey of the Hebrews from Egypt to the Promised Land was a journey shot through with the miraculous acts of God. The story has been passed down through many generations as a story that furnishes the hope that God will save us from violence and oppression. The Old Testament is full of the cries of suffering people to this God who saves, yet so often since that first miraculous liberation it seems that people were simply left to suffer.
Today we also remember the last supper Jesus shared with his disciples, knowing that he would be going to his death. He was not spared suffering but rather pointed a way through embracing all that life brings, good and bad, to participation in the new life of the kingdom of God. It was a journey through death to resurrection that gives us hope.
This year for the first time I have noticed the way that our lectionary holds together the different accounts of the Passion. Each year we have one of the Synoptic accounts of the Passion read on Palm Sunday held together with John’s account read on Good Friday. The different accounts layer one on the other, each giving a different flavour to the events that underlie them all. Holding them one on top of another encourages us to expand our ability to hold the fact that different ways of seeing an event can all be true at the same time. Each adds something to our overall experience of the Passion, takes us deeper into the meaning of love and gives us a way to be with that question ‘why do we suffer?’.
Different gospels give different words that Jesus cried out as he died. ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ occurs in the gospels of Matthew and Mark. It is a cry of despair that speaks deeply to us in our own times of despair. But we need to hold it with the words in Luke’s gospel: ‘Into your hands I commend my spirit’, words of trust in God. Then in John’s gospel the cry of accomplishment: ‘It is finished’. I believe all of these feelings were there for Jesus as he died, possibly as many have suggested, with the words of Psalm 22 on his lips. In our own suffering, and as we face the suffering of others, we need all these words, this range of responses. We are not called to facile denial of how bad things are but rather to embrace the despair these things evoke whilst also holding to our trust in God. In doing this the work of God is accomplished in our lives.
We do not know how this can be so – we are in the face of great mystery here. The synoptic gospels tell of the curtain of the temple torn in two, telling us that the death of Jesus opened up the way for all of us to know God in a new way. The first Christians knew that something dramatic had changed in their relationship with God after the death and resurrection of Jesus but how this happened has been subject to constant speculation ever since. We have been presented with many different images and metaphors to open up our understanding but ultimately it is beyond anything our rational minds can grasp.
We are called to dwell in the knowledge that God holds all things in being, that God is a God who saves. Yet Jesus shows us that salvation is through embracing death and suffering, in living life to the full whatever it throws at us. I am aware that this is easily said when we live such comfortable lives with ready access to food, housing and medical care. War is not on our doorstep. But as we open our hearts to the pain of those who are in desperate situations, holding that along with our awareness of God’s loving presence we allow that love to touch them too.
There is no simple answer to our question ‘why?’ but these Great Three Days give us a way to live with and through these questions and to enter into the joy of resurrection life.
Mother Anne - 14th April 2022