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Alone Together: Good Friday

Posted Wed, 03/31/2021 - 11:18 by Katharine

Forsakenness and Hope, a response

In the next blog of the series for Good Friday the Revd Bruce Thompson, Chair of Lincolnshire Methodist District, reflects on Psalm 22 and the history of Christian antisemitism

When those who compiled the Gospel accounts sought to make sense of the death of Jesus, they drew heavily on the psalms and prophets. One Psalm, 22, would provide a key question that has both consoled and confused many ever since.  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Consoled, because if Jesus experienced divine abandonment then we, as Christians, are in good company when we too feel as if a gulf has opened up between the Creator and us. Confused, because how could the Father abandon the Son? If that were so, what hope is there? The dilemma is real.

There is an awful irony of Christians recalling such abandonment when over the centuries many of them would pour out of their cathedrals and churches on such a day to attack the homes and businesses of Jews. In a warped perspective of the events leading up to the Cross and the question that was posed, the ones who falsely blamed others would bring about a tragic sense of forsakenness on the part of an innocent community. The following verse in Psalm 22 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest” appears to find full expression in Irène Némirovsky’s account of a pogrom in her novel The Dogs and the Wolves.

As soon as dusk fell, they had nothing else to do, for they were forbidden to light the lamps. No one in the lower town dared breathe, crouched behind closed windows and shutters, in narrow rooms that were dark and hot…..then the crowds roared like wild animals. They seemed to hurl themselves like rams against the walls, hitting them, backing off, furiously battering them again to knock them down, striking them again and again, in vain.[i]

It is clear that the misuse and abuse of scripture and the failure to correct false teaching have led to catastrophe in the past. Even today unchecked prejudice fuels deep hostility and hurt. Any hurdles we erect between us extend the divisions of the centuries. All alone we shall feel and continue to feel if we are not prepared to enter into honest and open dialogue with one another.

The psalm, whilst recalling what it is to sense abandonment, also gives cause for hope: there will come a time for us to all gather in a great assembly, all of us, from the far ends of the earth; the poor shall eat and those who seek will find.

A pithy proverb captures the significance of encounter:

I sought my soul and my soul I could not see.

I sought my God and God eluded me.

I sought my neighbour and found all three.

The Psalmist, Jesus on the Cross, countless millions of Jews who have faced the contempt of the Church, and many of us over the past year, have experienced something that is beyond loneliness, it has been akin to forsakenness. Nevertheless, we have hope in what may yet be. Drawing on the thoughts of Martin Luther King on the night before his assassination, we may not all get to see the outcome but others will, or as the Psalmist has it:

To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down;
    before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
    and I shall live for him.
Posterity will serve him;
    future generations will be told about the Lord,
and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,
    saying that he has done it.

This is why, even in a time of perceived abandonment, I retain hope. Even death, shall not have the last word on those whose legacy of righteousness is rich.

 

[1] Némirovsky, Irène, The Dogs and the Wolves, Chatto & Windus, 2009