Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Tuesday in Holy Week - Lucy Gardner

This homily was given by Lucy Gardner at Evening Prayer on Tuesday in Holy Week:

As we are drawn inexorably toward the fulget crucis mysterium – the flaming mystery of the Cross – the Lectionary steeps us in lamentation. You may have noticed! Now, at the beginning of Holy Week, we work our way through some of the book of Lamentations. Tomorrow this will give way to listening to the prophet Jeremiah, and on Thursday we shall hear some of Isaiah’s response. And our Psalms are all laments.

All this will culminate on Good Friday in the Song of the Suffering Servant from Isaiah and the Reproaches; like Elijah’s altar drenched in water, the cross drenched in tears will still ignite and burn bright, for all the darkness of the hour.

Each of these texts cries out to God in an extraordinary mix of outrage, despair, trust and hope. Listen to them and the resonances with modern turns of phrase.

“Look at the mess we’re in!”
“This is not how things should be!”
“The world has turned against us.”
“I am in a sorry state.”
“Look at what they’ve done to me!”
“Look at what they’ve done to my people!”
“Look at what my so-called friends have done to me!”
“How angry God must be at sin and perversion!”
“How angry God appears to be with us!”
“Why did it have to come to this?”
“Surely injustice will reap its reward; surely justice and righteousness shall flourish?”
“Surely the good Lord God does not want to abandon us? Surely God will be faithful to the covenant?”
“Surely God will save us?”
“Surely God has saved us?”

Formed in the crucible of Israel’s very specific history, destiny and vocation, these texts have resonance throughout human history and experience.Like Abraham and Moses before them, each writer, each speaker, laments at, for, with and on behalf of his people. The singular individual is always representative, always collective, always shifting and always challenging, sliding disconcertingly but also reassuringly from I to you to we.

It is important to realise that this is no self-indulgent self-pity. These are not invitations to a massive pity party. These texts are not wallowing in the false comfort of our own misery. Nor are they about beating ourselves up and leaving it there. We are too good at all that, and it is part of what we need to be cleansed of.

No, these prophets don’t simply ask us to cry out our woes; they also give voice to a summons to penitence and repentance, to a turning away – from enmity, evil, depravity, selfishness, waywardness – and to a turning to righteousness, justice, mercy, steadfast love, holiness, faithfulness, hope and a returning to God.

And what of us, what of you, today? How does your lament sound? With which injustices and hurts are your songs filled? What disappointments and terrors cause your eyes to fill and run over with tears? What have your people done to you? Who are your people? Who are their enemies? What have you seen done to your people? Who are your enemies? Who are the Lord’s enemies today? What form does your weeping for Jerusalem, your lament for peace and justice take today?

With the unfolding of the story of Good Friday, we are made aware that God is not only the one who is addressed by all this lamenting. As we listen to the Song of the Mysterious Suffering Servant, as we listen to the unfolding of the Passion, as we hear the singing of the Reproaches, we learn again that God has also lamented with us.

More than this, the question we have been hammering home every morning this week “Who is this that comes from Edom: coming from Bozrah, his garments stained crimson?” is not only the Lord, strong and mighty to save; it is Jesus Christ himself, the Lamb, slain for us, Son of God, who has become our Saviour in all our distress and has redeemed us by his love and pity.

We have failed, but he was lifted up for us, and has lifted us up with him; he has carried us through all our troubles.

And with this our lament changes:

We must now bewail what it has cost our Saviour to redeem us and our tearfulness; more than this, we must learn to lament with him, and not just to him. It is not simply that he has taken our lament upon himself; we must now learn the full extent of his lament, and join him in his acts to undo the lamentable. It is only in so doing that we shall receive the new beginning, the new songs and the new identity he offers us as his redeemed people. Then perhaps we, too, shall be able, with Paul, to claim that our bodies and our lives bear the marks of Jesus.