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Faith (April 2019)

FAITH:  one of the OED definitions interprets this as “Strong belief in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual conviction rather than proof”.  How strong is our own Faith?  For me it’s fairly strong at times, but most times I feel I muddle along.  I take comfort in knowing that Jesus was born in human form and understood mankind’s frailties.  We know from the Gospels that even His faith waivered twice:  once in the Garden of Gethsemane: “if possible take this cup of suffering away from me”  and again, in the last minutes of his life on the cross:  “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?”  Faith is a difficult path to walk and Jesus understood that.  Knowing his human persona found its way through in such desperate times brings me reassurance.  Jesus knew that his teachings were controversial and dangerous, and experienced the same thoughts and tribulations that any human being under threat of their life would be likely to feel - more so for Him because He knew his death, and the manner of it, was imminent. 

As we know from the Gospels, death was not, in fact, the end for Jesus.  The Gospels have differing accounts:  was it Jesus, a gardener, or angels that the women saw at the empty tomb?  What is clear is that the body, which should have been wrapped in cloths and lying in the tomb, was not there.  The disciples had been told by Jesus that He would not die but would rise again.  Even the faith of those who had lived with Jesus and listened first hand to His teachings was doubted by those closest to Him after his crucifixion: indeed Thomas would only believe Jesus had overcome death after he had seen the marks of the cross on Jesus’ hands and feet for himself. 

Faith is never easy and we all experience doubts and questions.  Many people, devout Christians among them, have speculated whether Jesus didn’t actually die on the cross.  The Romans used crucifixion because it involved a long, slow death so doubters espouse the view that Jesus would not have died after having been on the cross for less than a day.  They therefore take up the idea that he was (barely?) alive when He was taken down to be placed in the tomb where he spent the next day recovering from his injuries.  There have been times during my search for faith when I too considered this possibility.  A book I read caused me to reassess my views.   Written by a Yale Law School spiritual sceptic, he used his journalistic skills to investigate whether Christ existed and could have died after a comparatively short crucifixion time.  Despite his scepticism, and as a result of his investigations and enquiries, he became a committed Christian.  I heartily recommend his book:  “The Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel 0ISBN 0-310-20930-7 and am happy to lend it anyone who may be interested.

Yes, faith is not easy. It is a very difficult and long path to travel.  The disciples didn’t find it easy either:  perhaps that’s why Jesus chose them to follow him?  After all, their occupation meant they often experienced frustration when, during their many essential fishing expeditions, their nets came up empty, or not full enough.  They were used to disappointments; they understood the need for persistence and patience.  We too won’t always find immediate answers to questions and reassurance about our doubts, but sharing fellowship together – especially in such uncert ain times ahead – will guide us in the right direction.

Finally I’d like to share with you a poem which was written by a dear friend of mine Rev. Susan Shewring who recently led the Service on 17th March.  She wrote it imagining what Jesus might have thought and experienced as he looked around him during the time he was on the cross.  I personally feel it portrays the very obvious human side of Jesus’ personality as the poem eloquently expresses doubts and also compassion.   I hope you find it as moving as I do.


Jenny Pearcy

The Pain of the Cross

Flies swarm around my head, my senses are reeling.
My mind is spinning in a whirl of pain -
It’s all consuming, almost too much to bear.
I cannot breathe.

My body is scorched by the sun, the skin is peeling from my face.
You stand and jeer at me - the shame of my nakedness, the humiliation of my pain.
You poke my sides, taunt me.
You still don't understand how much I love you, how much I care.

Memories come flooding back - People cheering - people jeering! 
Scenes collide and merge, meld into one. My friends stand by me, then despise me.
The burden of your sins weigh me down,
  even more than the weight of my own body, as the nails rip through my wrists.

Don't you know? Can't you see what this is all about?
My mother's eyes are red from weeping as she looks on helplessly.
John, John, my friend!  Yet even you stand by and watch - still unaware.
Take my mother  -  she is yours now.

Mary, Martha, is that you?  Have you come to be near me - but no!
It's some giggling, gawking girls.
So - Mary, Martha - where are you in my hour of need?
I cannot see you - do you not remember when you needed me.
When I saved your brother, my friend Lazarus?

A fire burns through my broken body.
Your hatred stabs me like spears!
Judas! Betrayed by a kiss! 
Did you hate me so much? Love me so little?

Cruel soldiers! You laugh at my pain, you stare at me, to watch as I die!
You fight over my worthless clothes,
Yet I knew one, who loved me, who had the faith.
Where is he now?

My heart is breaking.
I am choking. I am dying!
My God! My God!
Why have you forsaken me!

But soon, it will be over.
Then you will know and understand.
No pain you bear will ever compare to that I have borne for you.
No sin of yours will ever keep you from my Father's house.

Ah  ...... it is finished.
It is done.                                                                                                      Rev. Susan Shewring