Forsaken: A Good Friday Reflection

Mark 15:25-38

25It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. 26The inscription of the charge against him read, ‘The King of the Jews.’ 27And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left.29Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30save yourself, and come down from the cross!’ 31In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.’ Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.

33 When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34At 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?’ 35When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, ‘Listen, he is calling for Elijah.’ 36And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.’ 37Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. 38And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 

I could take you to the seat of my 7th grade classroom where I first saw footage of the twin towers falling. I can tell you exactly what I was wearing when I got in a bad car accident, and I will never forget the date that a high school friend died in a house fire.

When something traumatic happens, you remember the details, even when you would rather forget.

“It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him.”

Sometimes, I would rather forget the crucifixion story. I would rather skip from Palm Sunday to Easter; move straight from “Hosanna!” to “Christ is Risen!” without walking through the mess in between. No need to drag out the gory details.

The haunting details.

The holy details.

“It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him.”

Mark’s story is dripping with details that beg us to slow down, to pay attention, to bear the weight of this heavy, holy story.

I can just picture it.

The sight of darkness all across the land.

The smell of sour wine on a sponge on a stick.

The sound of a jeering, taunting crowd,

and those uncomfortable last words: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

Jesus’ last words here are not a pronouncement of forgiveness, not a prediction of his resurrection. Jesus’ last words are ones of deep suffering.

I think we would rather forget that detail; we would rather imagine a Jesus who was a bit more divine than human; a Jesus who did not know what meant to feel forsaken.

“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

If we admit that Jesus asked that question, we might have to admit that we have asked it, too.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus cries out in his dying moment, but the words are not his own.

The phrase comes from Psalm 22, a psalm of lament.

In Jesus’ moment of deep despair, he has no original words to say; he has no parables about the reign of God, no teachings, no miracles. When he has no strength to speak, Jesus leans on the words of his tradition. In his moment of deepest need, Jesus turns to the psalms.

“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

His answer is buried in the question.

Where is God in the crucifixion?

Where is God in our moments of deep suffering?

God is there, in the words psalm 22.

God is there, in the language of our faith.

God is there, in the depths of human despair.

God is there in the holy, haunting details,

and God will be there in the empty tomb.

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