Like many parishes within the Church of England, our parish is using Stephen Cottrell’s (Archbishop of York) new book Godforsaken as a study guide for this Lent. We study in formal groups, house groups and single groups of one even.
I want to share my personal reflections with you on the questions posed by Bishop Cottrell as I make my way through Lent with his guidance and our study groups, and hope you find something in my thoughts that resonates with you.
1 : Lent Reflection on Being Forsaken
In this first week of Lent, the Archbishop asks us to consider our reaction to Jesus’ last words as he hung on the cross; ‘Oh God, my God, why have you forsaken me’. Mark 15:24 and Psalm 22. He also asked us to consider what being forsaken means to us today in our personal lives.
My instant thought was with the second question, because like many of us, I would say there are more times that I have felt forsaken than seems right.
Being forsaken can be experienced in many different situations; death instantly comes to mind, but there are the smaller deaths with the loss of a relationship, health, job, home and finance that can all cut deeply.
Then I thought of occasions where I had heard of, or witnessed, beautiful and peaceful deathbed situations in which the dying person was entirely at peace with what was happening, and also of people who somehow coped far better with the more general misfortunes of life than others.
It made me wonder why Jesus suffered so severely on the cross and why life and death deliver many cruel blows that can shatter some, but not others.
Jesus’ death was desolating and devastating rather than beautiful and peaceful. Something extraordinary happened at that time, but in a way impossible for us to understand as he was fighting the powers of darkness on our behalf. But at the same time as his life was ebbing away, he felt intense grief at losing his connection with God; he felt forsaken. What a battle to undertake!
His utter desolation and emptying of himself somehow enabled his will to triumph over the will of Satan. This took him to another place, from which he returned to his disciples in his physical and resurrected form three days later. This was his ultimate victory.
As I reflected on the despair and loss Jesus felt at his time of death, I thought of the pain and anguish we experience during our losses; I then came to see that the complete desolation Jesus suffered offers us a template to respond to our own darkness and distress. Because, as he overcame the powers of darkness with faith in his father, so too can we when we place our faith, hope and trust in him.
As we do this, we eventually emerge from our sorrows into a brighter place and experience our own small and personal victories as we regain our hope in life.
2 : Lent Reflection on Young People Without Faith
Archbishop Cottrell also asked us to consider young people who had not been taught about Jesus and did not have a faith life, although they realised many of their friends seemed to flourish in their various faiths.
We were asked to consider what we would like to say to such a person and, as the Church, to consider how we could help young people in this position who, like Jesus, feel forsaken.
Modern-day Self Development
I recently read (online) a theory of six components considered essential by today’s influencers to thrive and flourish in life. This is not the first article of this nature I have read, sometimes the descriptions vary slightly, but it generally goes along the lines of, we must have:
- Certainty – knowing our basic human needs would be fulfilled and have a reasonable level of safety.
- Variety – the pleasure of practising different ways of being.
- Significance – to perceive we are of some value in the world.
- Connection and love – good relationships with those around us and the comradery we enjoy with each other.
- Growth – striving and developing to reach our full potential.
- Contribution – a sense of purpose that we can achieve something positive and worthwhile.
This all sounds very clear-cut and logical, but try as people might, I do not believe living in the way of the world will achieve these six goals in any meaningful way; because we all ultimately need the help and guidance of Jesus to reach our full potential.
So I would like to tell those searching for fulfilment in life that it is only by living the way Jesus taught that authentic growth and development can be achieved and that this would be real progress in self-development which can take us further than our wildest dreams.
The Internet and Social Media
We could help get this message to young people searching for truth today by effectively entering all the technological communication channels they frequent and teaching them about Jesus in their own familiar environment. Explaining that through him, there is a much broader and deeper potential to develop into the people God intended, which will provide genuine meaning and fulfilment in this life and, ultimately, hope in life eternal.
St Paul the Evangelist
Then I thought of St Paul, a prolific letter writer and the greatest evangelist ever and wondered what he would have made of the instant international communication opportunities available to modern-day evangelists?
He would probably, I believe, have seen a great opportunity in harnessing the power of modern technology to outrageously and gloriously deliver the truth of Christ’s resurrection and the hope we have in him to the four corners of the world.
Ideally, this would be combined with the personal touch, as we are able, in our local communities and day-to-day lives to reinforce the message and assure others they have not been forsaken.
Archbishop Cottrell’s book ‘Godforsaken’ is available online or from your local bookshop.