Friday, September 22, 2006


This is Sermon delivered a few years ago by Pr. Bruce Allen Heggen for Good Friday. I was reading it this morning and thought I'd like to share.

Sister and Brothers: Grace and Peace, from God who gives us life and longing, and from Jesus Christ, our Centre and our Saviour. Amen.

Andrew Greeley, a Roman Catholic Priest, Sociologist and novelist, speaks of the . . . . "God-haunted." He speaks, for instance, of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. "Amadeus": his name means "lover of God," or "beloved of God." Mozart’s music is music of utter bumptious rollicking creative unpretentious joy; it is the music of a playful heart that knows perhaps as much of perfection as is possible this side of paradise. It is music of confidence in the grace and glory of God. Yet as Mozart drew near the end of his short life, the mood of his music changed. Perhaps it began to reflect more honestly the reality he lived: his father’s loveless exploitation of his talent; the non-support of royal and religious patrons; his poverty; his marriage that was growing steadily more unhappy; his loss of health. At any rate, his cheer gave way to something both more melancholy and more profound. Greeley suggests that Mozart had begun to feel more painfully the discrepancy between the perfection he had almost touched in the music that poured forth from his spirit, and the daily heartbreak of his life in Salzburg; his music began to reflect the strange truth of one who senses himself to be a failure in anything that he thought mattered. His music is not despairing; only deeply, deeply sad: it became the music, Andrew Greeley writes, of "the God-haunted [who] think they are failures all the time.”

Johann Sebastian Bach is another composer with a sense of "God-hauntedness." We count his musical settings of the passion story according to Saints Matthew, Mark, and John among the greatest music ever composed. But Bach was not the only composer to write music for the text of the gospel for Passion Sunday and Good Friday. He lived in a time when it was customary, not to read these long chapters of the New Testament in worship; instead the parish music director composed new settings every year, and the choir sang them. Every parish music director: Bach was simply better than most. Still, there were musical conventions for composers to follow, and people in the congregation expected these conventions and looked for them. One convention was for the words of Jesus always to be accompanied by a string quartet. The string quartet was recognized as a sort of "musical halo" that indicated God’s divine presence around the human voice of Jesus. Bach followed the convention, of course: but he allowed his creative genius to change one thing. The words of Jesus from the cross are sung without accompaniment. The sacred string quartet is silent. When the soloist sings, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me," he has no support: he sings it alone. It is as though Bach wants us to recognize that at this moment Jesus, the one who came in blessing – Jesus, the presence of God in the world to heal and to save – Jesus, Immanuel, God with us, takes his place with all the God-forsaken: with the failures, the misbegotten, the disappointed, the ones who have had a taste of perfection once and then live in desolate reality – the God-haunted. It is as though the one who came to negotiate our release from the trap of human existence has himself gotten caught in the trap: and so he prays, alone on the cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" A cry of failure. But he is not alone: he is there in the company of all failures: the poor, the victims, everyone who lives without power: he is with the sick, with the dying, with everyone who grieves, with each prisoner on death row, with each who struggles for justice against enormous oppression and unthinkable odds, with the starving, with the loveless, with those terrified by unemployment, with the homeless, the estranged, the desolate. On the cross Jesus is no longer God in the world for these: now Jesus is here with us in hells of our own making and in the hells not of our making. He takes his place in a God-haunted world, haunted the more for those who once have had a touch of the presence of God and had a sense of what might have been. And he takes his place with us in this singularly God-haunted time: haunted the more because we have had a sense only a few years, or months, or even days ago, that things might take a different course, that a cup might be allowed to pass from us. What lies ahead? Who knows ...

But theologian Walter Brueggeman tells us that if there is any truth at all to the biblical account of the crucifixion and death and resurrection of Jesus, it must mean this: that in the darkest of times, there is something afoot in the darkness that the prince of darkness himself knows nothing about.

Jane Kenyon was a god-haunted poet. Racked most of her life by profound depression, she struggled some days simply to move from the bed where she hid under blankets to the living room sofa where she hid under other blankets. Her husband, Donald Hall, said, "She was unreachable." He could only wait with her and watch. One medication offered new promise; the promise failed. Another medication would give way to the same cycle. And yet she knew moments of respite from hell: in one of those moments a poem came, each word almost immediately in place. The poem was a gift from the Holy Spirit, she said, and she called it, "Let Evening Come:"

Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.
Let the cricket take up her chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.
Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned

in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.
Let the fox go back to its sandy den.

Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.
To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop

in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.
Let it come as it will, and don’t

be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.

I was aghast at noon today when I first heard of the Israeli tanks at Ramallah: is this the final showdown, the beginning of a darkness with no morning to hope for? We don’t know. But the last word of Jesus from the cross, St. John the evangelist tells us, was, "Into your hands I commend my spirit." The God-haunted, God-forsaken son of God abandoned himself to his only source of confidence: we can not do otherwise. Perhaps once again something is afoot in this darkness that no one, not even the prince of darkness knows about. Who knows? We only go like Frodo the Hobbit into Mordar, not certain of the outcome of the mission, certain only of the mission itself. On the journey we commend ourselves to God, and we rest.

Let evening come.. . . . Let evening come: to the Israeli and the Palestinian in Ramallah, to the Hindu and the Muslim in India, to the American and the Taliban in Afghanistan, let evening come. To the sick and to the dying, to the grieving and the desolate, let evening come. To the parched earth and to the orchard-keeper who waits for rain, to the starving and to those who have keys to the granaries, let evening come. Let evening come to the homeless and the jobless. And let evening come to those who celebrate new birth, and to the newly baptized. And to the composer with manuscript and pen, to the maker of music, to the singer, to the dancer, to the harpist at her strings, let evening come. And let evening come to the God-haunted ringer of bells who waits to herald the dawn:

Let it come as it will, and don’t
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.



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