From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:45-46) (Word #4 of the Seven Last Words of Christ from the Cross)
These are probably the most gut-wrenching, horrifying words that have ever spoken by a human being, spoken by Jesus into the deepening darkness.
It’s bad enough to feel forsaken. Most of us have felt forsaken at some point in our lives: abandoned by a friend, maybe someone we were in love with, someone we cared about deeply. That’s bad enough.
It’s even worse to feel God-forsaken… to feel like things are so bad God can no longer see you and would never want to be near you. I believe this feeling of being God-forsaken is far more common in our neighborhoods and in our nation than we would imagine.
But the forsakenness Jesus felt was something even deeper than this. It’s beyond imagining, because in this moment on the Cross Jesus really was God-forsaken.
Yesterday’s reading from Trinity’s Lenten Devotional describes the scene:
“When Jesus had set His cup back on the table and sung a hymn with his friends, He left the upper room for the darkest night of His exile. Since He had arrived on earth, our sin – my sin – and His determination to end its reign had deprived Him of the comfort of heaven and the near friendship of His Father. Until His work was finished, there would be no return. As G.K. Chesterton wrote: ‘When the world shook and the sun was wiped out of heaven, it was… at the cry from the Cross: the cry which confessed that God was forsaken of God.’”
It’s beyond imagining. Jesus was abandoned, completely alone, for the first time in His eternal life. It’s beyond imagining because somehow, in a way that we can never comprehend, the One True and Living God was divided… split in two… torn apart. It’s completely unthinkable. It should have been impossible. But what is impossible from a human perspective is possible with God.
We know, thank God, that Jesus did not remain God-forsaken. He did not die God-forsaken. By the time Jesus breathed His last breath He was able to say with confidence “into Your hands I commend my spirit”. The unity of Father and Son was restored through the power of the Holy Spirit while Jesus was still on the cross. And the temptation is to move as quickly as possible past this God-forsaken moment because it is too much to bear. But it needs to be seen because this is God’s love for us in action. God loves us so much that He is willing to be torn apart himself, to be condemned and abandoned, so that we never need to be condemned or abandoned.
When I think about this I wish it hadn’t been necessary. I wish there were some way we humans could have lived up to God’s standards. I wish there had been some other way. This Jesus, who was descended from kings, who was the rightful heir to the Jewish throne, who loved and welcomed children… and prostitutes… and sinners… dies as a rebel and an outcast.
Yet in this moment we can take comfort in knowing that whatever we are going through in our lives, Jesus has been there and He knows how it is. And we can take comfort in the words of Isaiah, who says of the Messiah:
“…when he makes himself an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand; he shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied…” (Isaiah 53:10b-11a)
As strange and unlikely as it seems, Jesus thinks we’re worth it. All the pain and all the forsakenness He went through is worth it to Him to win us for Himself.
As we meditate on the suffering Jesus endured for us, let us respond with love, thanks, and obedience that grow deeper with every passing day. AMEN.
~ Preached at Church of the Atonement, Good Friday 2012 ~