to bring to mind those seven areas where pain is often experienced. As we reflect more deeply on each one its candle will be extinguished but the Christ candle will continue.
Sometimes our personal suffering can threaten to overwhelm us. We have helpfully evolved to recognise pain, physical, emotional or spiritual and perceiving the danger to act to address the source. This is a good thing! Yet in terms of prayer or attending to the divine, the presence of pain can make it very difficult to re-direct our focus anywhere else. We may experience only what feels like God’s absence. Yet when our ‘bones are out of joint’, when we can ‘find no rest’, then perhaps we are closest of all to whatever or whomever we name as ‘God’, even if it does not feel like it. For it is at such times that the only prayer that is possible, is not our own, but is the prayer of God in us. Even as we feel ourselves to be forsaken, God continues to breathe in us. For from ‘the days of our birth’ our breath has carried on every in-breath and every out-breath the syllables of the Hebrew name of God -Jah-weh; can you hear it? Jah-weh; breathe with me – jah on the in-breath; weh – on the outbreath.
So, during a few moments now of silence, let’s simply continue to breathe in and out, allowing the divine to be prayed in and through us...
Suffering Circle Two - Family
All those Marys gathered at the foot of the cross – their very name meaning ‘bitterness’! And indeed, this was a bitter time. A time for families to ask themselves, as families always will, ‘where did we go wrong? What did we do, that this should happen to the one we love?’ And his mother remembering the early days and nights, the baby safe and secure at her breast, asking ‘why can I no longer protect the one I love?’ In her helplessness we recognise our own – our own inability to change things, to fix things, simply to help. Her child is thirsty, and she cannot give them drink.
Thirst is such a primal need.
Every living creature longs for water in order to live. Here the one described as ‘living water’, cannot quench their own thirst. All they can do is continue to pour out their love, and in so doing bring refreshment to others. Sometimes this is all we can do for those whom we love most – continue to love when all other avenues of help are closed to us.
So, during these next few moments of silence you might like to ponder, ‘what are you thirsty for?’, and ‘where can your love bring refreshment’?...
Suffering Circle Three - Close Relationships
‘This is the place of prayer, where the inward pointing of nails converge.’ Betrayal by those we trust is just such an inner convergence of nails. For of all the many pains that can keep us from trust in God, perhaps betrayal is the sharpest. Maybe this is why every version of the Passion story has a place for Judas.
Jesus could have been picked up by the authorities at any point. There was no real need for inside help. So why has this tale of betrayal with a kiss resonated down the centuries? Is it not because we all recognise that at different times, we are both betrayer and betrayed, and always out of
the best of motives on someone’s part? Judas was probably not a bad person – despite all later attempts to paint him as such. He may just have seen things differently. He may have wanted to protect the ‘revolution’ – perhaps indeed to bring on the revolution with Jesus at its head. He had his own version of ‘it is better that one person die for the people.’ He did not mean for things to turn out the way they did, and his remorse was terrible.
In these next few moments of silence, let’s reflect on the betrayals we have, perhaps unknowingly, inflicted and the ones we have received, and seek to let them go ‘to the mystery at the place of prayer’...
Suffering Circle Four - Wider Community
Hope, faith, love – these are the things that sustain community. Like the thief in our poem today, we do not expect to find them in places of violence and hurt and suffering. Yet over these last months of COVID it has become clear, that it is exactly in these places that they are to be found. Even living as we do in one of the world’s COVID luckiest countries, we know that the past year has taken a toll on mental health, economic prosperity and overall well -being. We have been sharply reminded of just how inter-connected we all are, and of how damaging it can be when we are obliged to isolate from one another.
What then becomes critically important is our perspective. The two thieves in the New Testament account saw their circumstances very differently from one another. Similarly, we can view our need for social distance as a loss to be mourned, or as an opportunity to show care for others. Our simplest choices matter. We can choose instead of ‘social distance’, the language of ‘spacious connection’. We can choose to empathise with those whose physical circumstances, whether similar or worse from our own, inspire us to acts of generosity and care.
In the next few moments of silence, let us pause to give thanks for all the co-operation across communities that has come as a result of COVID-19, and to open ourselves to the invitation of God to care for others in our own community...
Suffering Circle Five - Nation
‘Let me go there’ he said. To that particular place. To that particular possibility. It is sometimes known as the scandal of particularity. This is not the terrible idea that Christianity is somehow special and privileged, in a competition against other truths. No, it means that Christ, while incarnate at all times and in all people, chooses to be known always in the particular and in the case of Jesus, in a first century Jew undergoing all the privations of an occupied nation.
So, what of us today and our occupied nation? For we live in a land stained by invasion, misappropriation, and massacre. Sovereignty and Treaty with First Peoples are not yet realised and there is a long way to go in the transformation of our colonial past. The grandmothers and great-grandmothers of the Stolen Generations continue to weep at their empty tombs, seeking the children taken from them. Again and again as we continue to ransack and demolish their sacred sites, we ask them to echo the words of Jesus, ‘forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’. Yet we do know and still we fail to honour the world’s oldest human culture.
So, in the particularity of this place, this place that is also like ancient Palestine ‘a scorched land of fierce colour’, how can we be Christ’s hands and feet and lips, so speak and act for justice for the first peoples of this land? How can we on this day of ‘sorry business’, attend to our part in righting the wrongs of our land.
As we rest for a few moments in silence, let us attend to the voices and spirits of this place; to the cries of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation and open our hearts in sorrow for the past...
Suffering Circle Six - World
There are more than seven and a half billion humans on our planet, each carrying their own mix of joy and pain. As today we lament and seek to share something of the human suffering of our globe, it seems overwhelming. War here, drought and starvation there; tyranny of so many kinds; deprivation and violence without seeming cease. So much need for the transforming work of love and grace. And every pain bearing its own particular face; its own particular name – the child without clean water; the refugee with no home; the victim of violence or betrayal; the homeless person only inches from this very building. And our own sense of apathy and powerlessness to change the decisions of the powerful, who themselves buckle under burdens too heavy to bear.
Take for just a moment a God’s-eye view. See across the little blue and green marble that is earth, the stains of suffering, thick in some places; here and there laced through with other tones, tones of hope and possibility. And see God’s love constantly working, constantly moving to bring light in darkness, hope in despair. This is the work of God, the work of the cross.
In these next moments of silence, focus on that work of love, seeking to join with Christ in that work of self-giving love; joining in Vanstone’s phrase in ‘love’s endeavour, love’s expense’...
Suffering Circle Seven – Earth
The Earth has often been left out of Christian spirituality in Holy Week. Yet, as our Bible witnesses so powerfully, the sufferings of the Earth as a whole are intimately tied up with the sufferings of humankind. God, humanity, and the rest of Creation are inextricably bound together in one covenant. If one suffers, all suffer – as indigenous peoples the world over teach us, what we do to the web, we do to ourselves. As St Paul puts it, the Earth itself groans, awaiting the fullness of God’s salvation…
But the covenant has been torn as never before by human action and inaction. The devastation of land and water, the destruction of species and the deprivation of habitat is known to us all– and the earth itself is torn apart, just like the tearing of the Earth in Matthew’s account of the passion.
Yet there can be hope as is made clear by the poem’s evocative acknowledgement of divine solidarity…. The body of our planet is also the body of God…
As we rest together in silence for a few more moments, let us therefore reflect on the crucifixion of the Earth today, and pray for healing and sustainability for all life on this beautiful planet...
by Penny Jones & Josephine Inkpin, for Good Friday 2021