My mother, lying there in Stamford Hospital, knowing there were only a few more precious moments of life to savor, expressed to me a thought/feeling I've mulled over again and again since that day in 1975. Mom said that she was not afraid to die, but she didn't want to be alone.
That moment and that thought returned to me last night in New Britain CT and the church to which we have returned for ten years for a Maundy Thursday everything service of foot-washing, holy communion, and Tenebrae. In that final night of Jesus' life he does not seem to be afraid to die. As I ached for him there in the darkened silence of prayer, as Scriptures were read, hymns sung, and candles snuffed, I, who rarely tear in sympathy, found a wetness rising to my eyelids, for the solitary and lonely way it was given to him for my sake.
Of course we sang "Jesus Walked This Lonesome Valley."
There were eighty of us at worship, scattered around a capacious nave that could accommodate three hundred souls. In other years I've heard disappointed clergy (including me) bemoan the attendance at Holy Week services; but last night in New Britain, remembering the Upper Room and Gethsemane, looking to Friday's cross, eighty seemed if anything a number too large.
Golgotha is a lonely place. Yes, it's also a painful place, an evil place, a place where our race's penchant for stupidity, violence, and self-justification achieves its ultimate expression, the murder of God.
All that notwithstanding, Golgotha remains the loneliest place in this brief space we mortals occupy between two eternities.
Consider. Friends have gone, looking on from a safe distance lest they be identified as what they now are patently not, Jesus' friends. Mom huddles near, her muffled sobs ignored by the guards who have seen this scene replayed dozens of times. Nature itself groans. Shadows gather. In this lonely place, one that others have inhabited in times of trial, we, faithful souls clinging to the pieties we've heard from parents at bedside and preachers in pulpit, reach for hope in the thought God will take care of us.
But the Father does not "take care of" the Son. On Golgotha. As he didn't in Gethsemane. Prayers soaked in blood and tears go unanswered.
I've heard that testimony from another Jew, one who never followed in Jesus' train. His context was not Golgotha but Auschwitz.
Make no mistake about it, when Jesus cries with a loud voice, "My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?" he means it. He means it for you and me. That he's been there, in the pit with the lion, in the asylum with the demons, in the terrible silence that can greet the most fervent prayer, when, we speculate, God isn't listening, and, maybe worse, doesn't care.
Until we grasp again a meaning of the cross of a thousand meanings, that that space, that lonely space, is from the first Good Friday hence occupied. Someone is there. Someone is always there, listening, caring, holding, loving... even when we do not and cannot feel it or think it.
I do not claim to have been to Golgotha. Maybe a brush or two with adversity and failure. But even as I have neared the conclusion my prayers would be unanswered, I have discovered hands, not always those calloused like a carpenter's, lifting me up; I have heard words, rarely in the cadence of King James English, encouraging me; and I have found faith, if not enough to move mountains, to go back into the day and life. Those hands, those words, and that faith arrive with others sent my way, usually unaware, by the mercy of God and the one who inhabits the lonely place.