Friday, April 14, 2017

Good Friday 2017: Forsaken?

High on the cross, the cry goes out: "Eli! Eli! Lama sabachthani!" which is "My God! My God! Why hast Thou forsaken me?"

Then, to look upon the one who cries out these words we see a man, naked, bruised, bloodied, in agony, struggling with every single breath. We see the crowd around this man, laughing, waggling their heads and uttering terrible insults. They cannot hear the cry of the man, all they hear is a possible cry to Elijah. The man has no friends, save possibly some distant onlookers. His crime written above on the cross says that this is "Jesus the Nazarene, the King of the Jews". 

Just look at Him. Truly God has forsaken Him, hasn't He?

If we suspend the benefit of our hindsight, then we might be tempted to say that, yes, this Jesus is an utter failure and he has only just realised it. All those wonders, all that teaching, all that getting up the noses of the powers-that-be and showing them up for the hypocrites that they are, all has failed. And here the man, this most foolish man, dangles on the cross in his blasphemy realising that He has been forsaken by the very God whose Son He claimed to be.

God has forsaken Him, hasn't He?

What of His disciples, standing aloof, watching from their hiding places if they dare. What of St John and Our Lady, standing in the crowd of people jeering, trusting that their desolation would protect them from further repercussions from a crowd whipped up by the effrontery that the chief priests have suffered from this man?  What of the hopes that they had at the miracles? What of the strength of his words? What of the way to salvation that He promised? Where is it? Their hopes and strength are nailed to the cross with Him? Was He really a man of God?

God has forsaken Him, hasn't He?

And yet...

Let's reason this through. 

Suppose that this man is indeed God Incarnate. Let us suppose that He is what He says He is, that He is human and divine. If He is right, then He cannot be forsaken by God. That would be an impossibility. So let us go back a little further. 

Why was He baptised by John? He didn't need to be, yet He did so to identify Himself with us. 

Why did He perform miracles? He didn't need to, and indeed He hid away from them. He did them for our benefit. 

Why did He weep when Lazarus died? He didn't need to as He was about to raise the dead. He did so to identify Himself with our grief.

At every stage in His life with us, Jesus has stood with us and taken up our course. He takes things on our behalf, cries out on our behalf, and dies on our behalf. 

This cry of "Eli! Eli!" is not a statement of His being forsaken. It is His identification with that psalmist, and for all human beings who, in the pit of their most miserable agony, in the depths of their depravity, degradation and depersonalisation, look up for God and cannot see Him, and cry out with their own "Eli! Eli!" 

God has heard the prayer of a fallen humanity and, in repeating it loudly upon the Cross in the depths of His agony, answers it.

This is not the cry of the forsaken. This is a statement that we never need feel forsaken again.

This is God's "yes" to us in His tears at our own misery. After "Eli! Eli!" must come that great, that wonderful "Tetelestai!" before the agony is replaced by a numb silence.

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