In Rowan Williams’ book called Meeting God in Mark (2014) he publishes three Holy Week talks given in 2010 in Canterbury Cathedral and based on some aspects of Mark’s Gospel. His aim is to encourage slow reading and reflection, but I particularly liked his quoting a short extract from the autobiography by the theologian Jürgen Moltmann called A Broad Place and published in 2007.
Jürgen Moltmann was a prisoner of war in Scotland in 1945 when he and his fellow prisoners were shown pictures of the deaths in the concentration camps at Belsen and Buchenwald. With this information came the appalling realisation that they had supported a regime responsible for the most terrible depravity. Rowan Williams explains that Moltmann had little Christian background and no theological education but he accepted a copy of the Bible when it was distributed by an army chaplain and then he wrote this:
‘I read Mark’s gospel as a whole and came to the story of the passion; when I heard Jesus’ death cry, ‘my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ I felt growing within me the conviction: this is someone who understands you completely, who is with you in your cry to God and has felt the same forsakenness you are living in now… I summoned up the courage to live again.’
Rowan Williams especially in the last talk in his book which is called ‘A lifelong passion’ emphasises the idea of God the great ‘I AM’ being fully present with the victimised, suffering and abandoned. With such a revelation it’s not about listening to Jesus because he does wonderful things, even if that is a possibility. But rather we are to listen to Jesus through his very existence, his mortal flesh, his death, where something can happen only when every possibility of hope, of love, of absolution has apparently been swept away and all that is left is the reality that the place of God is the place of a rejected and condemned human being. Williams asks whether this can be a reassuring and world changing insight – the all-powerful God is not where we might think he is, but rather is in and with humans who are helpless, often suffering and who face certain death. It is from this apparently despairing position that salvation rises.