Meditation for Tenebrae, April 1, 2010

Today, we will read the account of the passion from Mark’s Gospel. This is not one which is often used, but I chose it for a specific reason. I wanted to start my meditation by sharing with you a meditation written by a great theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
It is based on another section from Mark. So let us listen to Mark 9: verse 24. I believe. Help my unbelief. Just to refresh your memory, this was said by a father who had come to beg Jesus to heal his son, who was possessed by an evil spirit. He had previously asked the disciples to cure the boy, but they were unable to do so. Why? Because the father did not believe. But when he saw Jesus, he was desperate. He begged Jesus not only to cure his son, but to help him in his unbelief. And this is what Bonhoeffer wrote: “Your faith shall be tried by sorrow. God sends his children sorrow just when they need it most, when they have become far too confident on this earth. Then a great hurt comes into our lives, a hard sacrifice, a great loss, sickness, or death. Our unbelief rears up. Why does God demand this of me? Why did God allow it? Why, yes, why? That is unbelief’s greatest question. It tries to choke our belief. No one is spared this anguish. It is all so puzzling, so mysterious.
In this hour of godforsakenness, we may and ought to say: I believe, dear Lord; help my unbelief! Yes, dear Lord, even in darkness, even in doubt, even in godforsakenness. After all, dear Lord, you are my dear Father, who makes all things work together for my good. Dear Lord Jesus Christ, you yourself cried out: My God, why have you forsaken me? You wanted to be where I am. Now you are with me. Now I know that, even in my hour of need, you do not forsake me.

Yes, Lord, I do believe. Help me to overcome my unbelief.
Bonhoeffer was one of a group of clergymen who refused to bow down under the Nazi regime in Germany. He wrote this meditation in the midst of the turmoil that was destroying his country, and that came close to destroying the world. At that time, he was not the only person crying out for God; he was not the only person to feel abandoned by God. But he did not turn away. He remembered that Jesus himself cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And if the Son of God himself could feel abandoned, how much easier is it for us to feel that same way.
Yes, Lord, I do believe. Help me to overcome my unbelief.
Today, many people feel abandoned. We hear tragic stories of young people who are bullied, and the desperate measures they sometimes resort to. They have nothing to cling to, no faith to hold them up. We hear of people who have turned their backs on the church, believing that there is nothing here for them. In this secular society, more than ever, we need this to cling to. We need this to have faith in.
Yes, Lord, I do believe. Help me to overcome my unbelief.
Every night on the news, we see a new tragedy. We hear about random, senseless killings. We hear about suicide bombers. We hear about gang fights, which escalate and escalate, resulting in more and more deaths. We struggle to protect our children from such events, looking for something positive to give them instead.
Yes, Lord, I do believe. Help me to overcome my unbelief.
Hard as it may be to believe sometimes, there are still stories which show us that, not only is there a God, but that he is still here, among us. At times, he may not be Presbyterian. At times, he may not even be Christian. In fact, at times, he may not even be a “he”. We have seen God in people like Mother Theresa, who devoted her life to working with the lowest of the low. We have seen God in people like Father Damian, who gave his life working with lepers. We have seen God in Mahatma Gandhi, who worked tirelessly to help the poor of India. But, you know, we don’t need to look only at famous people to see the face of God. Just down the road from this church is a homeless shelter, where volunteers give countless hours to help others. Just up the road is St. Brigid’s home, where volunteers visit those who are no longer able to get out. Volunteers read to the residents, have coffee with them, and just sit with them. In all of these people, we can see God.
Yes, Lord, I do believe. Help me to overcome my unbelief.
On this, the darkest night of the church calendar, the night on which Jesus was betrayed by one of the twelve, on this night we can all pray with that unnamed father in Mark’s Gospel. We can all pray with Dietrich Bonhoeffer. While we wait in darkness for the joy that is Easter, let us pray, Yes, Lord, I do believe. Help me to overcome my unbelief.

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