Godforsaken? -- The Fourth Word from the Cross
Note: This is my contribution to the Troy Community Good Friday Service, which lifts up the traditional "Seven Last Words of Christ." I am one of seven preachers, each taking a word and exploring it in brief.
We now come to the fourth word from the cross, as recorded in the Gospel of Mark:
3 When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
By the time Jesus cried out the fourth word from the cross, darkness had covered the land for three long hours. At three o’clock in the afternoon, shrouded in cold darkness and suffering unimaginable pain, Jesus cried out: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Of all Jesus’ seven words from the cross, this might be the one we most identify with. In our own times of suffering, we may have felt abandoned by God. We may have drawn comfort from Psalm 23, but the words from Psalm 22 may better express our feelings in moments of suffering. We may feel like crying out: Where are you God? Why don’t you take away my suffering? Where is my relief?
It is difficult to imagine Jesus being a Godforsaken person. We hail him as the sinless Son of God and the Word of God present in human flesh. If Jesus is in any form God, then how does God abandon God? Nevertheless, these are the words we hear Jesus cry out from the cross as he experiences utter desolation. We ask why. Why is Jesus hanging on this Roman cross?
It has been said that we are the cause. Our sins have nailed him to the cross of Calvary. It has been said that God cannot look upon him because he has taken upon himself our sins. I struggle with that message, but I also take comfort in knowing that Jesus is expressing our own sense of desolation and abandonment. If God hears Jesus’ cry from the cross, then perhaps God will hear my cry as well. That seems to be the promise of Psalm 22.
We only hear the first line of the Psalm, but there is more to the Psalm than the first line. The Book of Psalms gives us words to speak to God: words of praise and thanksgiving, as well as words of lament and complaint. This Psalm begins with a complaint. It speaks of divine abandonment, something that Israel felt throughout its history as it faced challenges from all sides. But the Psalm doesn’t end with a complaint. It ends with a word of hope and praise.
If, as many believe, this clip from Psalm 22 is but the beginning of Jesus’ prayer to God that draws from the entire Psalm, then the cry of dereliction moves to a statement of trust and praise. As one commentator notes, this Psalm has within it a “rhythm of agony and alleluia.”
In this moment of suffering, as Jesus hangs in the darkness from the cross, experiencing agony and abandonment, he holds out hope that God is listening and will respond with restoration. As Truett Gannon writes, drawing from Jesus’ own experience on the cross: “We can now admit that there will be seasons when we must live with the Psalmist without the felt presence of God, and we can now learn through the resurrection of Christ that we will never be abandoned by God, even when we feel we have been.” [Feasting on the Word, p. 293].
We have heard the fourth word with its cry of abandonment; let us also hear a word of hope in this prayer of Jesus. With the Psalmist let us declare this day:
Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying he has done it. (Ps. 22: 30-31).
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
At First Presbyterian Church
March 30, 2018