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Monday, April 6, 2009

Abandoned & Forsaken

Some stories for Palm Sunday:

Theologian Jurgen Moltmann found his faith and his vocation during World War II. A soldier with the German Air Force, he was captured and brought to Scotland as a prisoner of war. He describes his worst day in the prison camp:

“And then came what was for me the worst of all. In September 1945, in Camp 22 in Scotland, we were confronted with pictures of Belsen and Auschwitz. They were pinned up in one of the huts, without comment . . . slowly and inexorably the truth filtered into our awareness, and we saw ourselves mirrored in the eyes of the Nazi victims. Was this what we had fought for? Had my generation, as the last, been driven to our deaths so that the concentration camp murderers could go on killing, and Hitler could live a few months longer? Some people were so appalled that they didn’t want to go back to Germany ever again. Later they stayed on in England. For me, every feeling for Germany, the so-called sacred ‘Fatherland’, collapsed”

In the midst of his despair, an army chaplain gave him a Bible to read:

“I read it without much comprehension, until I stumbled upon the psalms of lament . . . They were the words of my own heart and they called my soul to God. Then I came to the story of the passion, and when I read Jesus’ death cry, ‘My God, why have you forsaken me?’, I knew with certainty: this is someone who understands you. I began to understand the assailed Christ because I felt that he understood me: this was the divine brother in distress, who takes the prisoners with him on his way to resurrection. I began to sum up the courage to live again, seized by a great hope . . . Christ’s God-forsakenness showed me where God is, where he had been with me in my life, and where he would be in the future”

Elizabeth Johnson, reflecting on Dietrich Bonhoeffer's words in his prison journal, "Only a suffering God can help," relates this story from Margaret Spufford:

“Closer to the point is the reflection of another woman who spent endless days and nights on a hospital ward with her tiny, sick daughter, helping the nurses with the other babies when she could. It was a dreadful exposure to the meaningless suffering of the innocent. ‘On those terrible children’s wards,’ she writes, ‘I could neither have worshipped nor respected any God who had not himself cried out, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Because it was so, because the creator loved his creation enough to become helpless with it and suffer in it, totally overwhelmed by the pain of it, I found there was still hope.’ This is one way the symbol of a suffering God can help: by signaling that the mystery of God is here in solidarity with those who suffer”