Matthew 27:46 NRSV
Around the ninth hour, Jesus shouted in a loud voice, saying "Eli Eli lema sabachthani?" which is, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
MY GOD MY GOD WHY HAVE YOU ABANDONED ME?
As though something had gone horribly wrong. It was not supposed to be this way.
Oh this day, this hard hard day
when we see our Lord perhaps as human as any other day in his life.
This day when we feel the abandonment he felt,
We feel his fear.
This day when we hear that he was at such a loss as to what to do.
Earlier in this day, according to Luke’s Gospel, Jesus showed other signs of fear and anxiety especially when he said,
“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.
…And being in anguish,
he prayed more earnestly,
and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.”
We know he was afraid,
full of angst and longing to bypass this horrible anguish which he knew he must face in order to fulfill the will of his Father.
“Sweat like drops of blood falling to the ground.”
So when, in Matthew’s Gospel, he asks “Eli, Eli lema sabachthani?”
AY-lee ay lee, luh-MAH, sah-BAHK-tah-nee
we know that he has quivered and struggled for much of the day…
It seems his flesh was willing but his spirit was weak just as he said earlier to the disciples.
These words of Jesus, the first line of Psalm 22, are his only words from the cross which appear in two gospels and the only ones that are from the psalms.
We must remember that the psalms are often called the Songs of Jesus,
And we can be pretty sure that he would have known them all and sung them most of his life.
They are the part of the Old Testament which he quoted the most.
This plea comes from a person in dire straits. And the dire straits get much worse as the psalmist describes
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night,
but find no rest.
I am a worm, and not human;
scorned by others,
and despised by the people.
However reading on we discover that the psalmist’s prayers were answered, and he brings offerings
he vowed to give if his prayer were answered as well as
the public acclaim to God which he promised.
From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
The poor shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek him shall praise the Lord.
May your hearts live forever!
To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
and I shall live for him.
Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord,
and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,
saying that he has done it.
God is praised for his care for all people, and all people now and in the future should praise God, the psalmists says.
Jesus knew those words by heart, and perhaps he knew himself to be the very being to whom the words referred.
It is also important to note that psalm 23 which follows reminds us that God is the divine shepherd-king who leads his people to nourishment and safety, keeping them alive and protecting them.
But Divine abandonment and the fear of it is a major theme in the psalms, because it happens to all of us.
Last year at the end of July as I sat by mother’s bed in the McGraw Hospice Center,
I realized I did not know what to do,
I did not know what else I could do.
I was alone and afraid. My brother had been there with me until 11 that night, I had dozed off for a bit, but I was awakened by mother’s labored breathing about 3 in the morning.
She looked so peaceful, no more furrowed brow, but her right hand which she had gracefully held next to her cheek for the last four days, was now lying placidly by her side just like her paralyzed left hand, and it seemed it couldn’t be much longer before her transition was complete.
I just didn’t know what else to do, so I got in the bed with her and held her in my arms and started singing,
“The King of Love your shepherd is, His goodness faileth never, you’ll nothing lack if you are his and he is yours forever…”
And as I finished the song, I realized that my mother was gone, her spirit had begun its journey home. She still had some time before her body gave out, and her labored breathing had not become what they call agonal breathing, the herald of death…of the body that is.
But I knew that my mother was no longer of this earth by the way she felt in my arms. Calm, peaceful, and on her way. Her mortal body’s vital breath was almost finished. Perhaps it was the same for Jesus, and we might take comfort in that.
I climbed out of the bed, tucked her in carefully, pulled the prayer quilt up over her and sat down next to her.
And then I noticed the moon
…shining into her room with only the brightness that comes from a full moon, just as it will be tonight.
And I realized that Big Owene was going home by the light of a full moon, and all would be well, all would be well, all manner of things would be well…I was not alone and neither was she. God’s palm was wrapped tightly around us both.
But I had felt abandoned and morbidly afraid many many times before that moment
as I have many times since!
I believe that is the just the way of life.
Feeling abandoned, forsaken, afraid, lost, hurt are all deeply human emotions, and in his last days on earth, Jesus reminds us of that.
Life hurts, and as Scott Peck said so poignantly, it is difficult.
this yearly reminder of Jesus’s full humanity
combined with the great Truth that we are created in the image of God the greatest Lover of all,
surely confirms that we will never be abandoned, forsaken or alone.
But it is so hard to remember sometimes. So very very hard.