St Peter's 13-18
Today is Good Friday and, as I write these words, I should be in Dean’s Park next to the Minster, leading a service of reflections on the Stations of the Cross. The fourteen Stations of the Cross tell the story of Jesus’ arrest and journey towards crucifixion. This year, pupils in our Third Form were asked to produce a set of ceramics to mark the points on the journey and to help those at the service to mentally walk with Jesus.
A journey through seemingly gratuitous suffering will inevitably make us questions about the very nature of God. “Why is this happening?” “Where is God in all of this and why doesn’t God do something about it?” At times of suffering, it’s natural to look to God to step in and sort it out.
In Ancient Greek theatre, the term deus ex machina was used to refer to one of the actors being lowered onto the stage on wires - god from the machinery. In the middle of the turmoil of the drama, one of the gods would drop in and put things right. Is this, I wonder, the picture of God we hope for?
At his arrest, Jesus too appears to want to see God this way: “Father, take this cup of suffering away from me.” Wouldn’t it be good if God dropped in to make it all go away. But Jesus’ response to this thought is even more profoundly important: “yet not my will but yours be done.” Maybe Jesus knows that God has already dropped in, in him. Jesus is God’s response to suffering. In Jesus, God shows Godself to be willing to stand with fragile humanity even when times are at their toughest.
And there are moments when, even for Jesus, it feels like God just isn’t there. As Jesus cries out from the cross, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani; my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” he stands alongside every human being that has wished that what they are currently going through just wasn’t so.
Jesus’ journey to the cross is a difficult one to mentally join in with but it tells us that, in Jesus, God stands alongside humanity even when that feels difficult. And if, in Jesus, God entered into human life then entering into this story ourselves means that we must be willing to do the same: to stand with others in their suffering. Jesus teaches us that compassion is the very heart of God.
Please join me in praying today for all those who have the strength to stand with others in times of suffering: those who work with the sick and the dying; those who fight for the rights of refugees and those who are marginalised or persecuted because of their religion, race, sex or sexuality. Theirs is a journey with Jesus in the way of the cross.