Something happened yesterday, Good Friday 2016, that won’t happen again for over 100 years; in the church’s calendar the Annunciation (Gabriel’s announcement to Mary of Jesus’ birth) and the Passion of Christ both fall on the same day. It causes some problems for those who see Good Friday as a day to fast, but the Annunciation as a day to feast! When it happened in 1608 John Donne was at hand to pen his thoughts on “this doubtful day of feast or fast.” For Donne, “today, My soul eats twice, Christ hither and away.” He moves on to consider Mary, for whom the Annunciation changed everything and yet finds herself at the foot of the cross watching her son die a long and tortuous death.
“She (the soul) sees at once the virgin mother stay
Reclused at home, public at Golgotha:
Sad and rejoiced she’s seen at once, and seen
At almost fifty and at scarce fifteen:
At once a Son is promised her, and gone:
Gabriel gives Christ to her, He her to John;”
In one day we have “the abridgement of Christ’s story,” the beginning and what must have seemed the end. And I wonder as I consider Mary today what thoughts must have gone through her mind, what pain and anguish she endured as she heard Jesus cry, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Did she wonder if she’d done something wrong, or had Jesus done something wrong? Had she dreamt the entire thing? Had God got it wrong even? As she watched Jesus breathe his last did a fleeting thought flick across her mind, could this have been avoided if she had said “no” to God?
And as I ponder this, there is a familiarity about Mary’s situation which is at first blurred but gradually comes into focus, that sense of promise and loss, of hope and pain, of being loved and being abandoned. Growing up as a Christian, I had a very sure sense of being called and loved by God, of being called by name by him. But as my sexuality became clearer I felt that sense of acceptance, of love, of hope fade as I heard time and time again that God did not love me, in fact he hated me. What had gone so horribly wrong? Was I wrong? Had I done something wrong? Had God got it wrong, had he made me wrong or had he called the wrong person? And when it came to coming out and the aftermath, there was a definite sense of abandonment, of being forsaken by God, of asking if it might all have been better if I had never said yes to God.
But Mary’s story doesn’t end there. On Easter Day she will be there, when we get to Pentecost in 50 odd days time she will still be there. The promise will have been fulfilled, God has indeed looked with favour on his lowly servant, the Almighty has done great things, not just for Mary but for all of humanity. At morning prayer at the beginning of this week we listened to the Lamentations of Jeremiah, read so movingly it felt like we were there. Its hard going and then suddenly in the midst of despair, slaughter, all hope gone we heard, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:21-23). Hans Urs von Balthasar, a Catholic theologian, says that the triumph of Christ “is realised in the cry of God-forsakenness in the darkness,” that “at the end of the Passion, when the Word of God is dead, the Church has no words left to say.”
And before I’m allowed to wallow in either self pity or aggrandisement I am pulled up short when I read Allen Ginsberg’s poem Howl (parental advice: don’t read it if you’re easily offended). “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,” is his shocking start as he catalogues the demise of a generation. At the end of part one I was brought up sharp as he describes “the madman bum and angel” who “blew the suffering of America’s naked mind for love into an eli eli lamma sabacthani saxophone cry.” Ginsberg uses biblical imagery frequently in his poetry, sometimes jarringly shocking. Yet using the cry of dereliction as somehow the cry of a nation’s “naked mind for love,” made me wonder how many people, not just LGBTI people, are crying out to a God who they think has forsaken them because the church (that’s you and me if we’re Christians) often says too much.
In the stillness and silence I have experienced this Holy Week I have heard more of God’s love than in a thousand sermons. Mary answers God’s call as a young girl, and as a middle aged woman stands and watches while that call appears to come to nothing, on this day we mark both. In her faithful actions more than in anything she ever says she shows us that God’s mercies are new every day, that his faithfulness endures even death. After all the journey we may have been on of abandonment and despair we “arrive where we started,” as T. S. Eliot writes in Little Gidding V, “and know the place for the first time.” On this day when we arrive both at the beginning and the climax of the Incarnation, we are reminded that if we are to answer the cry of dereliction of this generation, of our LGBTI family and friends, and of our society maybe we need to stop talking so much and start saying yes to whom God has called us to be, in all of our beautiful created entirety.
Lee is an ordinand at The College of the Resurrection, Mirfield, in a Civil Partnership with Charlie (who isn’t an ordinand…) and buys too many books. He is a good friend of Soho Gathering, being one of our first Thursday evening attendees over 18 months ago! You can follow his Anglican exploits via @brileetaylor.