There were harrowing pictures and stories this week from the Foreign Secretary, William Hague’s trip to Congo with the film star Angelina Jolie. Horrific scenes of internal refugee camps; stories of rape, violence and brutality against women and children.
The stories that continue to flow from Syria, and her neighbouring nations hosting refugees, reveal children and families traumatised, abandoned and wondering if there is any hope.
The world is full of people and places that seem forsaken, abandoned, lost.
In our own land a growing number wrestle with their relative poverty; homes that are not fit to live in; shortage of food etc. people here can feel forsaken.
The same can happen when a loved one dies; the gap in our lives can be so large we feel alone, abandoned, forsaken.
On Good Friday here in the Minster we reflected on Jesus prayer from the Cross ‘My God, my God why have you forsaken me?’ Good Friday is about loss, abandonment, forsakenness. It is grim.
On the Sunday morning still numbed by all that had happened, a small group of women made their way very early to Jesus’ tomb to complete the burial they had had to rush on Friday because of the onset of the Sabbath.
For 36 hours they had been unable to do anything. They had been left in their sorrow, in their forsakenness. It must have felt very deeply that God had abandoned them.
So when they arrive at the tomb, find the stone rolled away and the body gone, no wonder they were perplexed. Even the body was now not available for them to anoint with spices. They cannot even grieve properly. Their forsakenness deepens.
Then to add to their forsakenness fear is added. Two strange men in dazzling apparel appear inside the tomb and speak with them. No wonder they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground. There was so much confusion in their minds already as to how the triumphant entry of a week ago had turned so wrong and ended up with their Master crucified. The added confusion of how their male friends had all deserted him at his time of need, and now a missing body. Their minds must have been turning cartwheels – forsaken, and fearful.
These two angels don’t go in for a long explanation; they get straight to the point ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.’
No wonder their reaction is varied
– in Mark they flee trembling, astonished, fearful;
– in Matthew they have a mixture of fear and great joy;
– in Luke they appear to grasp at least some of the angel’s point – only to be completely disbelieved by the men when they tell them the story.
Forsaken, fearful and the first flickers of faith. It will take the appearance to Mary Magdalene, the appearance to Simon Peter, the conversation with Cleopas and his friend on the road to Emmaus, and the appearance in the evening in the Upper Room to really begin to help them grasp the truth – He is risen.
His risen-ness means they are not forsaken after all. He has not abandoned them but is with them. They need not fear all that they had come to fear of death and loss; although a new holy fear, awe and wonder, will grow as the reality truly dawns on them. Faith will fan into flame.
The wonder of the resurrection of Jesus is the wonder that God has not forsaken or abandoned us. He is alive, present, real, alongside. He has conquered death and pulled us through it with him. He has dealt with sin and its consequences. It is news that should make us tremble, and be astonished; it should fill us with great joy – and inspire a deep holy fear.
SO WHERE DOES THIS LEAD US THIS EASTER SUNDAY?
So where does that take us this Easter morning?
1) Moving from forsakenness to awareness of God’s loving presence is not always quick, and is often a bumpy journey. Too often we try and make the journey ourselves, or expect others to do it too quickly; rather than recognise it is a journey with bumps in the road; sometimes severe bumps.
2) Looking forsaken does not mean that a person, or place is finally forsaken.
I have been privileged to visit a refugee camp and a displaced persons camp. The people I met were both forsaken but also spoke of the Presence of God with them there. The pictures on the news are not the whole story; however forsaken a place or people may appear God has not abandoned such people or places. Indeed it may be that the presence of God, the risen Jesus, is found more profoundly and really than it is in our comfortableness.
3) Sharing the story of the Risen Jesus is a vital part of how we help others know that God has not forsaken them, or us. We may tell the story haltingly, with trembling and a mixture of conviction and oubt but tell the story we must. Our society needs to hear afresh the truth of Easter. It will only hear it as we speak it out to our neighbours and friends. We are the witnesses to the resurrection.
This Easter may we share with the first witnesses the shock, astonishment, disbelief, surprise, joy, faith and reality of the presence of Jesus. Even in the bleakest, darkest places may this be true. And may we speak of the risen Jesus to a world that nees to hear the good news that He is risen.