Here is a brief sermon from Good Friday on Jesus saying, "My God, my God why have you forsaken me?" from the cross.
Good Friday – My God, My GodThe Fourth Word - 45 From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 46And about three o'clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" that is, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
“I feel so alone,” she said to no one in particular perhaps because no one was there. At least that is the way it seemed to her that afternoon.
“I just feel so alone,” she repeated under her breath.
As she sat there in the uncomfortable pleather chair, waiting for the news, the weight of her solitude began to push in upon her with a ferocity she was not sure she would be able to bear.
“Why,”she thought, or perhaps she said it out loud, not that it really mattered. “Why in this moment when I need comfort the most do I feel so alone?”She buried her heavy head into her hands and began to cry…
Looking toward the sky she said, “Do you hear me? Why? Why do I feel so alone?”
This seemingly familiar scene is difficult to witness. No one wants to see another person struggle with feelings of solitude and abandonment.
If we are honest, we struggle to openly admit that such despair even exists. In fact, we clutter our lives with things and our calendars with appointments just to make sure that we avoid these feelings at all cost.
However, feelings such as this are impossible to outrun. Awaiting the diagnosis, hearing the sad news, identifying our own feelings of inadequacy…We feel alone. We feel abandoned. These feelings are a part of the human experience. They are impossible to outrun.
On this day, on a dreaded tree, a man hangs to condemned to die. There, this man named Jesus suffers unimaginable pain, cruel indignity, and heart rending sorrow. And as the time of his death approaches he speaks once again. The author of the Gospel of Matthew writes that Jesus cried with a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”Some of those gathered at the foot of the cross misunderstood his words. They thought that he was calling upon Elijah, who some traditions held was to reappear to usher in the kingdom of God. It was an honest mistake. That was event for which many were longing. But that was not the sentiment that came from Jesus’mouth. Those weren’t the words that spilled from the lips of the crucified Emmanuel.
No, hanging on the cross, Jesus recited the words of the 22nd Psalm in his mother tongue of Aramaic. “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
And we cringe at the words. For as one commentator wrote, “We have been taught to give pat answers in the face of life’s difficult questions, and (saying such a thing), certainly, is not one of (the pat answers we were trained to give). But Jesus knew what he was saying. By uttering these words from Psalm 22, he is challenging, daring, us to consider things we would rather not, notions as sublime as the inseparability of suffering and glory, of incarnation, of eschatological hope from the ashen brink of death.”(Matthews 286)
Jesus knew the pain of separation more powerfully than one could ever imagine. Jesus, the Son of God, Emmanuel, God with us, understood the words of the psalmist deeply and in a manner no one had ever felt before or since.
Marti Steussy, Old Testament professor and Psalm scholar at Christian Theological Seminary here in Indianapolis writes, “Jesus experienced a variety of humiliations representing a whole range of human suffering and alienation, even unto the sense of being forsaken by God. At this point, we see Jesus’ real humanity…” (Steussy 89)
This muddies the waters of a sanitized faith. It is much easier to consider a swaddled baby in a manger than a naked man hanging on a tree. It is more wonderful to consider the empty tomb than a blood stained cross. These are God forsaken moments. These are moments of felt-absence not soothing presence.
There on the cross, with the cry of the psalmist on his lips, “Jesus will be left – forsaken –to the forces of evil. He will really suffer, and he will really die…Both the psalmist and Jesus trust God to save, not by magically eliminating all pain and suffering, but by working beyond human knowing in and through pain and suffering.” (Long 318)
In Psalm 22, “the psalmist laments that she feels that God has forsaken her, but to whom does she lament? She laments to the God who does not forsake us. When Jesus cried out on that cross, he was not speaking to existential nothingness, but to the God who hears and delivers the afflicted. His words did not express a lack of faith, but were a revolutionary credo of trust in the only one who could comfort him –and us.” (Matthews 288)
We struggle with feelings of abandonment as we sit in those uncomfortable pleather chairs of life, waiting for the news.
And on our lips and in our hearts are the words of the psalmist and our Savior, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”
This is not a faithless statement! For in its utterance, we address the one who is never far from us.
Yes, even in the moments of felt-absence, the God incarnate understands. Even in the midst of life’s suffering and the isolation and aloneness that often accompany it, Emmanuel, God with us, has the courage to dwell...with us…even there in the absence. Amen
Almighty God, on this Good Friday in the shadow of the cross, may we have the courage to cry out to you even when we feel abandoned. For today, hanging on Golgotha’s cross is Emmanuel, God with us even in our moments of felt absence. It is to you we call. It is to you we pray. Amen.
Matthews, Jr., William P. "Matt". "Pastoral Perspective on Psalm 22." Feasting on the Word: Year A, Vol. 2. Ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor. Louisville: John Knox Press, 2010. 284-289.
Steussy, Marti J. Psalms. St. Louis, Missouri: Chalice Press, 2004.