The darkness and death on Golgotha were not just events restricted to that time and place. Everything in the earthly sojourn of Jesus has relevance for every time and place given that he experienced these things not only as man but also as God.
And so the darkness and death of Golgotha also belong to our time and place. Indeed, unless we link our experience of darkness and death to that of Jesus, we will never find our way to light and life. We will never have the hope that our darkness and death can find a way out, can be redeemed can, in some form which transcends our understanding, even have meaning. Unless we unite our darkness, however deep, and our death, however absurd, to those of Christ, despair and absurdity will impose their cruel dominion.
The victims and survivors of abuse have all known a terrible and pervasive darkness, as thick and oppressive as the plague of darkness Moses called down on the Egyptians when they would not let the Israelites go free. Victims and survivors, too, have known that plague, that imprisonment, that oppression and probably depression which darkness imposes. Not all victims have been survivors, however. Too many have also known the crushing defeat of death. For them, there was no way down from Golgotha. For them, death itself seemed the only way out of their darkness. For them, the cry “Eli, eli, lama sabacthani?” was as near as it could be for any human person to the forsaken cry of Jesus.
And much as it galls us and disturbs us to recognise and consider these terrible things, we must face them square in the face. If we do not, and if we do not do so in the company of victims and survivors, then we are turning our faces away from the immensity and cruelty of the pain they endured. In the face of such devilish horrors we cannot engage in avoidance or denial or dumbing-down. If we do, we avoid the truth, our anger becomes artificial and genuine compassion becomes impossible. They need us to stand with them, beside them, as Mary and John and some others stood and faced the yet greater horror of the Cross of Jesus.
True healing and peace for victims and survivors can only come from a true appreciation and acceptance of their wounds and pain. Jesus could not save us from sin and death without taking all our sin upon himself and dying our death. Redemption from these things is only possible if these same things are experienced by the Redeemer. The healing of victims and survivors is only possible if their afflictions of mind, body, heart, soul and conscience are fully recognised and accepted by them and by us.
But the power of true and final healing from darkness and death comes neither from the victims nor abusers nor from us, but only from Christ, and only from the crucified Christ. The power of the Cross alone can bring definitive healing. For it is the power of the eternal, creative, recreative, renewing, restoring and therefore healing love of God himself. Yes, everything must be done that can be done by doctors, psychotherapists and all who have a vocation of healing. But no-one can consummate and bring together all these strands of healing except Christ himself. And it was his wisdom, both clever and paradoxical, to do that precisely from within the depths of the darkness and death of Golgotha.
And so, to pray as we do today for the victims and survivors of abuse, be that abuse sexual, physical, emotional, spiritual or of any other kind, is not some vacuous exercise of pietistic vanity. Oh, no! Rather: because its aim is to unleash the power of Golgotha upon and within our abused brothers and sisters; because its motive is the faith and love which we ourselves have received from Golgotha: then our prayer is the most potent way of bringing healing to the abused.
Finally, as I always do, and feel I must always do when speaking of these grave matters, we cannot stand under the Cross of Jesus and exclude from our company the perpetrators of these unnameable crimes. The blood of Christ was shed for all. The love of Christ knows no boundaries. The compassion of Christ is unrestricted. Is our anger at the abusers justified? It most certainly is. Is our determination to see just punishment meted out to them right? It most certainly is. Is our abhorrence at what they have done and our emotional aversion to them reasonable? Indeed, it is.
But our anger, abhorrence and aversion, however much they may make us feel better, will not bring them out of darkness and death. For some of the abusers, the darkness is a profoundly moral one and it may well bring them to the brink of damnation. For others, their twisted and cruel behaviour results from their being abused themselves or from some other major dysfunction of their inner world. For still others their actions result neither from moral depravity alone nor from psychological obscurity alone, but from a mixture of both and from circumstances, opportunity and plain stupidity. Darkness, too, has many shades and many traps. And, alas, for some abusers, not darkness but death has been their way out, from cowardice or from despair. On which side of the Cross did they hang?
But for all of these, too, the Christ of Golgotha is Redeemer and Saviour – if they want him to be. And so, in the name of Jesus, we cannot exclude them from our prayers for the unleashing of that healing power of the Cross. Nor must we exclude from our prayerful intentions the Lord’s own purpose in dying for us all: that we may be one, ransomed, healed, forgiven and restored to ourselves, to one another and to our merciful God.
When St. Stephen was martyred, the future St. Paul stood there approving of his murder. They are now both saints and rejoice together in heaven. Is it possible to hope against hope that in some future time, in God’s good time, the one who has gravely sinned against a brother or sister will stand side by side as saints in the Kingdom? Not only is it possible! It is our duty and privilege to have this hope. The Cross conquers all. Certainly, it requires the free will of those involved to respond. But the will can be assisted by grace to cooperate with grace. We must pray for that grace of cooperation. For we cannot only seek our own healing from Christ: if those who have wounded us are not also healed, then in some sense we are still wounded.
As Christ died on the Cross, the veil of the Temple, keeping God and man separate, was torn in two. That veil also represented the separation between a man and his enemy. We ask the Lord Jesus on this day to bring us all gradually but consistently along the path of our own personal healing; to bring all victims and survivors along that same path; and to bring all abusers along it, too. In his infinite mercy, may he remove the veils which sin and death place between us and so reconcile us, face to face and side by side, to stand with him before the Face of the eternal Father.