The week before Resurrection Sunday is a big deal in Latin America. People here actually quit working and live a more peaceful existence--though many merely use it as an excuse to go to the beach and celebrate the end of summer. Yesterday was Good Friday (Holy Friday in Spanish). So, we joined with many other faithful believers for a day of serious church attendance. We went to church with two of our missionary collegues: Emily Sandoval and Phyllis Rose. They were scheduled to preach as two parts of a seven sermon, four hour, church marathon. The topic of the sermons was the last 7 statements of Jesus (see the list below). After we arrived, the pastor said that he didn’t have anyone to preach on “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me? (Mk 15:34)” He asked if I’d be willing to do it and I said yes. I sometimes give the kids 10 minutes to write a 5 minute sermon. That’s what it was like. I was grateful to get this text, since it was more passionate and obvious than some of the others. I addressed the sermon from two perspectives: theological and emotional. In honor of Holy Week, here is a devotional on Mark 15:34--"And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, 'Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?'—which means, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'"
The first perspective (theological) is to simply answer the question, “Why hast thou forsaken me?” The answer is that sin separates. Sin destroys relationships and creates barriers where no barrier was ever meant to be. The husband who cheats on his wife, eventually forces everyone in the family to feel abandoned. An innocent wife goes unloved. Children go without their father’s affection and, worse, lose the image of a father they can trust. The whole family suffers a painful existence without affection and without protection. When people sin, it forces others in society to undertake the painful task of punishing even their friends. An honest cop cannot let his best friend off, if the latter is an alcoholic who kills people by driving drunk. The latter man’s sin has caused a separation among best friends. If the cop is a just man, he must arrest his best friend and bring him to judgment. He must do it, even if the sinner is his son. God had to forsake Jesus, because the latter was carrying all the sins of the world. Jesus was, at that moment, a murderer—carrying the weight of Cain’s murder of Abel. God, the Father, was the judge. An honest judge cannot let his son go free, if the young man had actually committed murder. And even if the father had always been there for the son in the past, when one goes to the gallows, one goes alone. The just Judge decrees the sentence that, according to the law, the young man must die. After he gives the decree, the Father watches the executioner take the young man away. It’s possible for parents to visit their son in prison, but when someone gets a death sentence, they go alone. Perhaps, as in this case, the young man looks back at the father and cries out, “You’ve always walked with me through the difficulties. As these men take me away, why do you not accompany me? (i.e. why have you forsaken me?)” The father, a just man who respects the law, turns away because he cannot bear to see it. Criminals, who are so vile that society deems they must be put to death, must face their punishment alone.
The second perspective, emotional, has to do with human experience. Jesus cried out these words to let me know that he knows what I have gone through. No one walks the walk of faith without experiencing a time in which it feels like God is not listening. For some, the feeling that God is not listening, that he has turned away and forsaken them, lasts for years. That’s the pain of the barren woman who longs for a child. That’s the pain of a couple whose child is terminally ill. God does indeed answer prayers and there are hundreds of stories of the barren woman who miraculously has a child and the parents of a sick child who miraculously recovers. Miracles do happen, but they don’t always happen. There are many great Christians who saw fabulous miracles, but who also suffered. Mother Theresa went for decades where she did not hear the voice of the Lord and she suffered horribly under this longing. Martin Luther led the reformation, but also suffered the death of his beloved daughter. I have prayed for friends to recover from cancer, only to suffer their loss. In those moments, if one is really honest, one’s emotional response is to accuse the Lord of wrong doing. In our pain we cry out to the Lord, “You left me alone when I really needed you!” It is to say, “My God, my God, at my hour of greatest need, why have you forsaken me?”Jesus knows what I’m going through. Jesus has experienced these feelings. We don’t need to feel ashamed of them. Even the Son of God has asked that question.
We have the advantage of historical perspective. We’ve read the whole story and know that, even though Jesus felt abandoned by the Father, God had a plan. Jesus knew the plan. Jesus knew that he would rise again, but the effects of sin had obscured his ability to see it. Sin separates and sin obscures. Sin, whether it is ours or someone else’s, leaves both innocent and guilty people in the dark. But we are not in the dark in this moment. We have the account written fully for us. We know that in that darkest moment, the curtain which sin had created, the curtain which separated God from us, was torn in two. We need to always keep in mind that even though today is Friday, Sunday’s coming--and we all know what we celebrate on Sunday.
The picture, above, is of the cross atop "San Cristobal" (Saint Christopher). It's a mini-mountain in Lima, from which one can overlook the city. On Good Friday, thousands of peruvians climb to the top of the mount in penance.
The 7 last statements of Jesus are:
1. Lk 23:34a Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
2. Lk 23:43 Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
3. Jn 19:26-27 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
4. Mk 15:34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
5. Jn 19:28 Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.”
6. Lk 23:46 Jesus called out with a loud voice,“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.
7. Jn 19:30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.