I began with a Welcome and Introduction that explained a little about what we'd been doing over the past few weeks:
On the Cross, God experienced the absence of God, so we have been giving up God for Lent. We have looked at atheist critiques of God, religion and faith, purging ourselves of an instrumentalised religion in which God and faith are instruments for sanctioning our own means and achieving our own ends. We have sought to discover a richer and more honest faith, in which our doubt and disbelief are recognised and remembered. Our experiences of the absence of God do not signal our distance from God but, rather, our identity with God, who too was forsaken by God.
After we sang Sydney Carter's "Friday Morning," I read an imaginative re-telling of the Crucifixion narrative that I wrote:
We crucified Jesus of Nazareth with criminals, and together we mocked him, calling him Christ, King of the Jews, Friend of Elijah, Son of God. At noon, a thick darkness descended and we could hardly see his face up there, veiled in blood and black. But at three o’clock we heard him cry a loud lament. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And then he breathed his last. As if his body were its own, the whole earth echoed his expulsion of air; the ground trembled terribly, rocks split and burst forward, and bodies buried recent and long shifted in their tombs so that in the days to come many would say that they had seen the dead arise. But I think I also heard him say, “It is finished.”
Then we had a reading from G.K. Chesterton, "Let the Atheists Choose a God":
When the world shook and the sun was wiped out of heaven, it was not at the crucifixion, but at the cry from the cross: the cry which confessed that God was forsaken of God. And now let the revolutionaries of this age choose a creed from all the creeds and a god from all the gods of the world. They will not find another god who has himself been in revolt. Let the atheists themselves choose a god. They will find only one divinity who ever uttered their isolation; only one religion in which God seemed for an instant to be an atheist.
And Dave performed Prince's "The Cross"
I modified (adding a sprinkling of Nietzsche) a section of "Angels in America" (see here) to make a reading, "Sue the Bastard," which our Pastor Chris read wonderfully:
The prophet, yes. That is what they call me. I am like a madman in a market place.
God abandoned us. He isn’t coming back. And if he ever did come back, if he ever dared to show his face in the garden again, if he ever returned to see how much suffering his abandonment had created, and if all he had to offer was death, we should sue the bastard. That’s my only contribution to all this theology, all this a-theology. Sue the bastard for walking out. How dare he?! He walked out on us, He ought to pay.
Then we sang the chorus of Depeche Mode's "Blasphemous Rumours" like a Taize chant:
We suffer. But we don’t want death, we want life. I want more life. So bless me anyway. I want more life, I can’t help myself, I do, I want more life. I’ve lived through such terrible times and there are people who’ve lived through much, much worse. But we see them living anyway, when they’re more spirit than body, when they’re more sores than skin, when they’re burned and in agony, when flies lay eggs in the corners of the eyes of their children, they live. I don’t know if it’s not braver to die, but I recognise the habit, the addiction of being alive. We don’t want death, we don’t want After Life, we want life, here and now. And if we can find hope anywhere, anyhow, that’s it, that’s the best we can do. So bless us anyway, we want more life. Thus spake the prophet!
I don’t want to start any blasphemous rumoursBut I think that God’s got a sick sense of humour
And when I die I expect to find Him laughing
We had a ritual, "Sacred Cows," of submerging and washing away names and images of God from paper in bowls of water, and had a wonderful poem written by a member of Journey's writing group, "Queer Ink," reflecting on the content of the "Atheism for Lent" Course, asking, "What is the name of this god you disbelieve in?"
Then Dave performed George Michael's "Praying for Time:"
I edited one of Pete Rollins' parables so that it was short enough for a reading:
There was once a preacher who possessed an unusual but powerful gift. Far from encouraging people’s religious beliefs, he found that from an early age, when he prayed for people, they would lose their religious beliefs, beliefs about the prophets, about the sacred Scriptures, even about God. Now he rarely prayed for others, instead limiting himself to sermons.I also modified a wonderful poem by Kester Brewin, which he shared on his blog this morning, and added a few lines of my own (inspired by Pete):
One day, however, whilst travelling across the country, he found himself in conversation with a businessman who happened to be going in the same direction. This businessman was very wealthy, having made his money in the world of international banking. The conversation had begun because the businessman possessed a deep faith and had noticed the preacher reading from the Bible. He introduced himself and they began to talk. As they chatted together, the rich man told the preacher all about his faith in God and his love of Christ. It turned out that although he worked hard in his work he was not really interested in worldly goods.
“The world of business is a cold one,” he confided to the preacher, “and in my line of work there are situations in which I find myself that challenge my Christian convictions. I try to remain true to my faith. Indeed, it is my faith that stops me from getting too caught up in that heartless world of work, reminding me that I am really a man of God.”
The preacher thought for a moment and then asked, “Can I pray for you?” The businessman readily agreed, not knowing what he was letting himself in for. And sure enough, after the preached had said his simple prayer, the businessman opened his eyes in astonishment. “What a fool I have been for all these years,” he said. “There is no God who is looking out for me, there are no sacred texts to guide me, there is no spirit to inspire me.”
They parted company and the businessman returned home to work. But now that he no longer had any religious beliefs to make him question his work and to hold it lightly, knowing himself to be, deep down, a man of God, he was no longer able to continue with it. Faced with the fact that he was now just a hard-nosed businessman working in a corrupt system, he began to despise himself. And so, shortly after his meeting with the preacher, he gave up his line of work completely, gave the money he had accumulated to the poor, and started to use his considerable expertise helping a local charity.
One day, years later, he happened upon the preacher again. He ran up to him and fell to his knees. “Thank you,” he cried, “for helping me to lose my religion and find my faith.”
Today, there is no hope.Then I said:
God is nowhere.
There is no resurrection,
No looking forward to a Sunday which does not yet exist in even the wildest imaginations.
There is no prayer, no solace, no point.
God has died.
It’s over. Finished.
The best you can do is carry on the memory.
The only remainder of belief (now all has been strung up and screwed up) is to consider that maybe his life was well lived,
And that helping the poor, and standing up for the oppressed
Was worth dying for.
God has died.
But we live still… this Friday… to do Good.
God is nowhere.
God is now here.
During our closing song, we invite you blow out a candle to symbolise your doubt, disbelief and atheism, and to recollect that we all find our home in Babylon, in exile, forsaken by God, without God and yet with God still.
And while we sang Pádraig ô Tuama's "Maranatha," we extinguished all the candles in the room and then I closed the service, in the dark, by saying:
At three o’clock we heard him cry a loud lament. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I think I also heard him say, “It is finished. Go in pieces to love and serve the Lord.” Amen.
We left the room as it was... to re-light all the candles as part of the liturgy on Easter Sunday.