“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) Why have you forsaken me? These are words I would expect from the most broken, lost and hurting among us. Words fit for those losing a battle with addition, those facing the horrors and destruction of war, the extremely poor, those dying from hunger and thirst or some incurable illness, those battling severe depression and loneliness. But this is Jesus. I find His question here to be the most distressing of all the words spoken from the cross. In this sentence the One who earlier declared, "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30) now speaks of utter abandonment. The same One who was with the Father and the Spirit in the beginning; the one who knows an un-comprehendible unity from eternity past in this moment cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" The words seem out of place for the Son of God.
If I were an editor or a redactor of the biblical text, I would be tempted to leave these words out. They show Jesus and the Trinity as a whole in a light that many of us struggle to understand on the surface, but as we allow Christ’s words to penetrate our hearts we find in this God/man/Messiah someone that intimately knows us in our moments of deepest fears and struggles. As the writer of Hebrews proclaims, “We do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.”
Tradition explains that Jesus’ cry was a calling out in prayer the whole of Psalm 22. If we follow the psalmist David’s words we find a remarkably detailed description of a trial and struggle that could be given as a report of the events on this Friday. David tells of an eventual triumph as the one who cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" believes that His cries will be heard and He will once again, in the midst of the assembly, give praise to the Father. Verse 29 tells that even the dead will once again worship Him. The events of Friday must always be understood in the light of the events of resurrection Sunday.
Henri Nouwen in his book Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life wrote, “When Jesus spoke these words on the cross, total aloneness and full acceptance touched each other. In that moment of complete emptiness all was fulfilled. In that hour of darkness new light was seen. While death was witnessed, life was affirmed. When God’s absence was most loudly expressed, his presence was most profoundly revealed. When God himself in his humanity became part of our most painful experience of God’s absence, he became most present to us.”
“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). Rather than being unfit and obscure words of Christ, these words culminate a lifestyle of the One who emptied Himself for the sake of being present to God and others. And as much as we need to be reminded to understand the events of Friday in light of Sunday, we are reminded that Jesus did not bypass the moment of the very real sense of abandonment. Many today still cry out, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” As Christians, the living body of Christ on earth, who have experienced Sunday’s resurrection, may we empty ourselves and be present for those still experiencing Friday’s sorrows.