Fr James Lyons
4 April 2011
Wellington’s Sacred Heart primary school held a service in the cathedral on the Friday following the Christchurch quake [February 25] in which they faced the question, Where is God in this tragedy?
In their prayers they affirmed that:
God is in the tears of those who are sad and in the hearts of those who are afraid;
God is in the rescue teams and in the hands of those who help the wounded;
God is in the kindness of neighbours and in the friendliness of those who help strangers.
The children also donated bed linen, blankets and towels which were placed at the foot of the altar and became a focus for the time of prayer.
Cathedral parish priest, James Lyons read the gospel account of Jesus’ death on the cross and spoke about the mystery of God’s presence in both clouds and darkness.
In some places in the Christian Church – particularly in the church in Russia and Eastern Europe, the procession at the beginning of worship is led by singers chanting Mystery! Mystery! This custom announces what none of us should ever forget – that the God we believe in and pray to and regard as our friend, is always and in every way, a mystery.
We can never hope to fully understand God; none of us can ever say, I know all there is to know about God. Whatever we write or say about God is never enough. We can never get to the bottom of the mystery that is God.
Only by accepting this can we begin to cope when things happen over which we have no control – like the huge earthquake in Christchurch. Some will want to blame God for the tragedy; some will say this is God punishing us; some will see the tragedy as a sign that God is cruel and they will say how can you possibly believe in such a God? These attitudes emerge when we don’t have answers for the things that happen. We don’t like feeling helpless; we don’t like losing control. ‘God’ becomes an easy punchbag when we can’t find anyone else to hold to account.
Psalm 97 gives us an important message about God. The psalm begins, The Lord is king! Let earth rejoice. That sounds pretty good, doesn’t it: God is powerful, like a great king, and creation is happy about this. But then we read, Clouds and thick darkness are all around him. What? Our great king covered in clouds and darkness! What’s that all about?
Clouds hide things from view; darkness makes things totally invisible. Clouds are helpful when it’s very hot because too much direct sunlight is not good for us. Clouds cool the air and they’re often a sign of life-giving rain. Darkness is good too – it enables us to rest and sleep. But the dark can also be a scary place because we can’t know what’s there, in the dark.
Clouds might annoy us, but darkness can really frighten us.
So – our God is wrapped in clouds and darkness. That tells us we are not to look for God only in the lovely, shaded and sheltered places, but should expect to find God in places we might feel too afraid to enter or where we feel inadequate or empty of answers. Our God is ‘King’ in every place!
We don’t like not knowing what’s going on. We feel we must know the why and where and how of everything. But if we really want to progress in our understanding of God, we have to expect to find God in both clouds and darkness:
When things are easy or tough – God is there
When joy and laughter are our companions or when tears and sadness weigh us down – God is there
When study is a pleasure or when it’s hard to concentrate – God is there
When love is close or when it seems far away – God is there
When life is good or when death is upon us – God is there
Jesus showed us this when he gave his life. At the time he was nailed to the cross God seemed to be very absent. Jesus cried out, My God, my God why have you left me – where have you gone? But it was exactly then, in the dark moment of agony and loss, that Jesus also knew God’s presence and was able to say as he died, Into your hands I commend my spirit.
The Christchurch earthquake is a dark moment of agony and loss for all of us in Aotearoa New Zealand. But, as the children are showing us in this service, echoing the experience Jesus shared with us, it can be in the darkest times that the presence of God is clearest – such is the power of the mystery that is our God, clothed in clouds and thick darkness.