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.’
From the cross, Jesus says the words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Why have you abandoned me? Why have you forgotten me? Why have you left me here to die alone?
Jesus says what he feels and is experiencing, but he is not alone in this confession of his. No, you see, Jesus was raised in the Jewish tradition and in that tradition, words of lament, sorrow, and pain were as important a part of their faithful practice as were shouts of praise and thanksgiving. You see, the Hebrew people understood that these experiences — sorrow and joy, pain and praise, loneliness and community — go together and that to ignore one for the other is to only half experience faith and connectedness to God.
We often fail to recognize that when Jesus says these words from the cross, he is not only quoting a beloved Psalm - number 22 to be exact — but he is leaning on a long tradition of being honest with God about how things look and feel from this side of story. Our Hebrew ancestors gave us a gift by including scripture of lament throughout the Hebrew Bible. It is gift we too often leave wrapped because we live in a time when expressions of doubt and loneliness are often wrongly equated with a lack of faith.
All of us will face times in our lives when we need to rely on this gift from our ancestors. All of us will face times when we will need words of sorrow and expressions of loneliness, because the things we face are painful and they leave us broken in ways we didn’t know we could break. The loss of a loved one, the diagnoses we could not imagine, a failure we never saw coming, job loss, a friend’s betrayal, a broken marriage…..We all will experience times in our lives when we feel alone, abandoned, and disillusioned by events that happen in our lives.
For me, one of those times came on Christmas Day of 2009. You see, about 7 1/2 months earlier, I learned I was pregnant with our second child and at that exciting 18 week appointment, we found out it was a boy. At that same appointment, we learned there was a but….a concern…a let’s look at that a little closer. Eventually, about 4 weeks later is was confirmed that our son, had Trisomy 18. It is a chromosomal abnormality that is 100% fatal. Those were the words the doctor used. I learned that there was a 50% chance our son would be still born, and that if he survived labor and delivery, he would die within the first year of life.
And so, for the next 11 weeks, I walked around, doing life, with my ever growing belly….always knowing that I was more of a midwife for death than for life. It was while sitting in the Christmas Eve service at my church, that I realized I was in labor. We went to the hospital and when the nurses learned of my son’s diagnosis they knew there was no reason to try to stop the process even though I was only 33 weeks along. On this most holy of nights, my son, Aiden John was still born into this world at 12:38 a.m. and I was sure that time was going to stop. It had to stop - because in that moment, nothing else mattered in the world.
But it did not stop. Family came. His big sister held him. We gave our precious son the only bath he would ever have. And then the gentleman from the funeral home showed up. He came in, dressed in a suit in the middle of the night, and he was carrying a white wicker basket and it was filled with soft blankets. As soon as I saw that basket, I felt like I was being ripped apart. I had to let my new son go with this stranger and there was nothing in the world I could do to stop it. I was in a forsaken and lonely and deserted place. The night no longer seemed holy and there no offer of comfort that could ease the pain I felt in my bones. The only thing I could do was wail and cry and ask where is my God.
There are moments in our lives when everything changes — when it feels like all we knew to be true in the world is no longer true. When it feels like nothing is safe and we are all alone in the world. And in those moments, though we feel alone, we do not have to be alone because we have a God to whom we can cry.
For “my God, my God” is in the end a cry of hope…because even in the darkest of times, even in moments when nothing seems to be good or whole in the world, even in those times when it looks like the night has won and morning will not come again, My God can handle my fear. My God can hold my doubt. My God can hear my cries of feeling abandoned and forgotten and my God does not need me to pretend like everything is okay when it is not okay.
When we face the darkness, let us take courage from our ancestors and from Jesus who knew that crying out that he felt abandoned was not an abandonment of faith, but rather it was an opportunity to embraced faith more deeply and more honestly. Let your cries be cries of hope in our God that can hold both our great joys and our deepest sorrows. Amen.
Photo: Mosaic in Coptic Orthodox Church, Jerusalem, Israel. Photo by David Cassady/Faithlab