‘Why have you abandoned me?’ – the abandoned God
Hymn – to read or sing
Lead, kindly light, amid the encircling gloom,
Lead thou me on;
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone,
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
Which I have loved long since, and lost a while.
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, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, ‘This man is calling for Elijah.’ At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.’ Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’
Many women were also there, looking on from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for him. Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee. Matt 27.45-56
I have sat with others as their earthly life has drawn to a close. No two stories are alike. But I have come to believe what others have long said – that in a mostly hidden but significant way the last journey of a person’s spirit into death begins long before physical death.
We have some glimpses of what Jesus was going through on the cross – though even those near him struggled to make out his words and meaning.
The creeds say ‘he descended to the dead’. And that, in Christian tradition, was a descent to hell itself.
A television documentary captures the moment when an explorer penetrates remote, deep jungle and comes upon ancient ruins. The breathless voiceover says – ‘who knows when human voices were last heard here?’
Jesus descended to the dead. There must always be mystery in the language and imagination here. But Christian faith has understood this to mean that in his incarnation, suffering and death Jesus willingly and fully entered the farthest, deepest, waste places of human spirit and destiny. All that is most lost.
Now, from the cross, an anguished cry rends the lifeless silence.
‘My God, my God why have you abandoned me!’
And when was a voice last heard from that abyss?
It is the only time in his earthly life Jesus does not call God ‘Father’.
He is there for us … It is our cry.
It is the cry of the world.
It still is.
In that cry is found our hope and salvation – and nowhere else.
In more recent literature and films about the cross the suffering and pain have been presented in overwhelmingly graphic detail. But we will not understand his gift by trying to measure his pain. It is not the quantity of suffering that saves.
It is who is suffering and why that saves.
Nor is salvation achieved by some kind of transfer of punishment from sinners to an innocent victim. The cry of Jesus is not the agony of pain divinely inflicted, punishment pitilessly exacted, payment claimed in blood.
Rather, God takes it upon himself – and it tears him apart.
That cry is the harrowed anguish of divine love.
How are we to express this?
‘I want to say it like this’, writes the theologian Jane Williams, ‘so that we can hear it and feel it. God is torn apart from God. Particularly about the cross, that is the only kind of language that I can find to say what I am trying to say. On the cross, God endures the separation from God that is the world’s.
As Jesus cries, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’, he is the life of God, streaming into our separation. Because Jesus and his Father are ripped apart, nothing can now separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. God is in our dislocation from God, as in our connectedness.’
Where do you connect with these thoughts?
You might pause and keep silence for a few moments.
Christ our victim
Whose beauty was disfigured
whose body torn upon the cross
who willed to enter our abandonment and loss
Open wide your arms
To embrace our tortured world
That we may not turn away our eyes
But abandon ourselves to your mercy. (Janet Morley)
A space to add your own prayers
We adore you O Christ and we bless you
For by your Holy Cross
You have redeemed the world.