A year ago I went to a Maundy Thursday service. I found it almost unbearable, and left it unable to speak. I drove home sobbing and sat in the driveway whilst my body shook uncontrollably as the tears and grief overtook me. Good Friday was a terrible day. Easter Saturday a day of desolation and I was desperate for Easter Sunday to come.
On the Thursday evening as I sat in the service I felt more powerfully than I had ever felt before, that I was the disciple who slept in Gethsemane; I was the disciple who repeatedly denied all knowledge of Jesus by the fire in the courtyard ; it was my sin and deceit and disobedience and selfishness that he was choosing to die for. That he was doing that even whilst I was hedging my bets and keeping some selfish sinfulness running alongside the part of me that was trying to follow him.
For those three days I saw sin as it really is. It was black and ugly and heavy and twisted and cruel and my justifications for it and my love of it were only going to bring death. It scared me. It terrified me. I resolved to choose life.
Once sin has a hold on us it’s not easy to get free. I tried. I tried repeatedly, but sometimes I was the one holding on too.
My vision of sin was accurate. It is black, ugly, heavy, twisted and cruel. It brings death.
God has been leading me in the most extraordinarily gentle way back to the path of life over these past months. In this past week as we drew nearer to Easter I wrote the difficult words to loving sisters in Christ who asked me questions which enabled me to re-examine my choices, thoughts, feelings. Asked me to look at what my pride was doing in all of this. Asked me to reflect on the nature of love.
Good Friday came and I knew that I had to acknowledge that I accept the death of Christ. – not just in a head-way, but that I am actually allowing myself to let go of the things which he wants to take from me.
I wrote my confession. I didn’t know what was going to be in it but as I started to write it all came.
I wrote asking for forgiveness and I wrote that I accepted the forgiveness God wants to give me.
I named all that I wanted to let go of and hand over to him.
I took that piece of paper, and another, which I’ve been carrying with me for 9 months and I found shells with holes through them. I put the papers inside and after a period of inner wrestling (it is so hard to let go sometimes) I walked into the sea and let them go.
I found rocks which represented the things I was giving to God (paper didn’t quite feel heavy enough) and I threw away the hurt from betrayal and my shame and destroyed pride and anxiety. I realized that Jesus understood all of those feelings. I didn’t need to explain.
And then, he asked me a question. He said “what about forgiveness ?” I shouted back ‘”You f****** want me to do that as well? Haven’t I done enough”.
“No”, he said. “I want you to do that. “
I understood. How could I come knowing that I was being forgiven, that my heavy rocks were being taken from me, and still be unforgiving ?
Through my painful tears I said the words Jesus wanted to hear from me.
When I finished sobbing and wiped my face I threw my tissues in the sea too. Against all ‘don’t litter in the sea’ responses in my head I knew that I needed to hand over my tears too. They are his now. He can use them as he thinks best.
As I walked away knowing I’d been at the foot of the cross I asked, humanly, selfishly, demandingly for a tangible sign. A sign that showed me that what I had done was what he wanted me to do. That leaving all those things behind was not going to be a loss but a blessing. I looked at the pebbles and everywhere I looked there were heart shaped stones and shells. I collected 4 or 5 before my pockets were full and I just had to smile every time I saw another. And then a white shell caught my eye. “This is how I see you”, said my Father. “Redeemed, unashamed, beautiful, clean.”
And so I wait for Easter day. This year knowing that I am on the path of life. My hand is now empty of all that I was grasping and it is free to take the hand of God.
‘Lord when your cross pierces
our own desires
and makes us call out,
let our cry be, through our pain
My God, I trust in you
My God, I trust in you.’
“‘Lord some of us are never far from tears,
and some of us have forced ourselves not to cry.
Bring our tears into your captivity and direction,
That they respond to your voice.
You have the words of eternal life.’
‘Will it never end?
I’m not as sure as when I started.
I never knew it would be like this.
But this is my firm choice:
Lord, I will go on with you.
Lord, I will go on with you.” from Celtic Daily Prayers