Forsaken


Sermon by Rev Allister Lane on 19 April 2019 (Good Friday)

Reading was Mark 15:25-39

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Have you ever been watching a sports game where you are so desperately wanting your team to win that if they had a victory, it would kinda be your victory too?

And then, your team starts trailing. Do you get a sick feeling in your stomach as you watch the victory slipping away? Perhaps you hold on to fool’s hope, that as you watch the clock counting down, there could be a last-minute miracle to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

If you’ve ever had such an experience, then take that feeling and multiply it by 1000 to imagine what it would be like to stand as a disciple at the foot of the cross. Watching the one that you hoped would save the world cry out that he is forsaken.

Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’  (v34)

A more accurate translation than ‘cried out with a loud voice’ is ‘screamed’ or even ‘shrieked’. (The translators couldn’t quite go all the way on this one.)

If you were reading this for the first time, how would you understand it? Would you assume Jesus is capitulating? That’s what it sounds like, right?

Jesus’ shriek of being forsaken sounds like an abandonment of all hope. God has abandoned him, and everything he’s lived for has come to nothing.

That’s the logical conclusion. In the final moments of his life, this man who was looking like an influential historical leader, instead of leaving a solid and significant legacy, shrieks of being forsaken.

If that’s the conclusion of this final cry, why would Jesus’ supporters include this in the story about him? On the surface of it, this shriek of being forsaken seems to damage the claim about Jesus being God’s Son on a mission to save the world.

And it’s precisely because it is easily misunderstood as weakening the claim of Jesus’ identity, that we recognise this is a compelling example of an eyewitness memory. Even those scholars who are sceptical about Jesus’ identity as God’s Son recognise this account of his shriek of being forsaken is an eyewitness memory. You wouldn’t include this if it didn’t actually happen. This wouldn’t be helpful for your purpose if you are making up a compelling story to persuade people!

Another reason this points to an eyewitness memory, is that the shriek is given in Aramaic – which was not the language the gospel was written in, nor the language most the readers knew. It was the language Jesus used.

People remember Jesus shrieking – they’d never forget it. And neither should we.

It’s worth noting what Jesus DOESN’T shriek from the cross… Jesus doesn’t shriek about his wounds. He doesn’t shriek about being rejected by the religious leaders as a ‘blasphemer’. He doesn’t shriek about being executed by the state as a ‘rebel’. He doesn’t shriek about the abandonment of his friends.

He seems to be able to handle all these things. Remember how cool he was, even in the intense threats of death in the Garden of Gethsemane:

Put away your sword. (Matthew 26:52)

So why is Jesus shrieking…? Again, it’s worth noting what Jesus DOESN’T shriek. He doesn’t cry out ‘Father’. On the cross Jesus screams “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”

I was preaching a couple of weeks ago about Jesus’ relationship with God the Father, and I pointed out this is one of the few times Jesus doesn’t call God ‘Father’. Why not?At this moment, greater than the physical agony, greater than the emotional agony of desertion by friends, is the agony of being abandoned by his Father.

In that moment, as Jesus hangs on the cross, something spiritual is happening. The relationship Jesus has always known with God the Father is cut off. The communion of the Trinity (Father, Son and Spirit) is, for the first time ever, suspended.

Jesus is abandoned in judgement. His execution on a Roman cross is his human judgement. The “darkness that came over the whole land” (v33) indicates the divine judgement.

Jesus is under judgement?  Judgement for what…?

In that moment, Jesus takes upon him the weight of sin – not his, but the WHOLE WORLD’s.

The weight of the world’s sin is laid on him, and this cuts him off from the Father. Our sin (all of it; all aspects of us that has no future) is transferred onto Jesus, cutting him off from the Father, …in order…to give us relationship with the Father.

Jesus became sin[1], and therefore forsaken by the Father…

…to save us.

Jürgen Moltmann observed:

in his death on the cross, Jesus enters into the situation of human godforsakenness. …he does not die the natural death of a finite being, but the violent death of the criminal on the cross, the death of complete abandonment by God. The suffering in the passion of Jesus is abandonment, rejection by God, his Father.[2]

When have you felt isolated and alone in your life? Perhaps you’ve felt cut off from the rest of the world. Maybe it was when your car broke down and your phone battery died. Or maybe as a child when you got lost, when separated from a parent.

Jesus not only knew isolation, but abandonment. It was if he had no God. All he had known and enjoyed and depended on …was gone. He lost love and life; the infinite suffering of abandonment by the Source of love and life.

This is why Jesus shrieks. And this is why Jesus understands us, and how he saves us.

In experiencing abandonment, Jesus tells us that we are never alone even in the worst of our sufferings. There is no amount of human pain that Jesus cannot relate to. God is a fellow sufferer who understands.

Many of us have undergone suffering for which there is no explanation that removes our pain. Jesus’ shriek on the cross reminds us that, whatever we suffer, the God who raised Jesus from the dead will also raise us.

This is how one theologian describes what this means for us…

God does not become a religion, so that man participates in him by corresponding religious thoughts and feelings.

God does not become a law, so that man participates in him through obedience to a law.

God does not become an ideal, so that man achieves community with him through constant striving.

He humbles himself and takes upon himself the eternal death of the godless and the godforsaken, so that all the godless and the godforsaken can experience communion with him….

In a civilization that glorifies success and happiness and is blind to the sufferings of others, people’s eyes can be opened to the truth if they remember that at the centre of the Christian faith stands an unsuccessful, tormented Christ, dying in forsakenness.[3]

So, today we reflect on the fact that, on the cross, Jesus is forsaken. Executed by the state and abandoned by God.

We linger over this all Saturday, for there is no reassurance on that day. Jesus dies without reassurance or resource.

We linger with this abandonment until Easter day.

I invite you to fix your attention on your own abandonment. And if you don’t know it, then focus on someone else who is feeling abandonment, some of our friends, some of our enemies – all of us people in need of relationship, of communion.

God sees us. God is right here with us.

Judgment is laid on Jesus.

Jesus takes upon him the weight of sin – the sin of the WHOLE WORLD. And because of this, his righteousness (the perfect life of obedience he lived) is laid on us. God now treats us in the way he would his obedient Son.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

This shriek – the most horrible, and the most wonderful, of all human history.

Amen.

 

[1] 2 Corinthians 5:21

[2]  Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God: The Cross of Christ as the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology

[3]  Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God: The Cross of Christ as the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology

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