by | Feb 26, 2024

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
  Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?

Psalm 22:1

During Lent, we often reflect on our mortality. And Lent concludes on Good Friday, when we think of the mortal side of Jesus. One Good Friday tradition is to reflect on the Seven Last Words of Christ, the last sayings Jesus made while on the cross:

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34

“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43

“Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” John 19:26-27

“Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34

“I am thirsty.” John 19:28

“It is finished.” John 19:30

“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Luke 23:46

I would guess that I am not the only person who thinks at some point during every season of Lent, “why did it have to happen like this?” That is, why did Jesus have to suffer to save us? I remember my internship year, so many years ago, at Immanuel Presbyterian in Los Angeles. We did pretty much every Holy Week observance, including a full-on all-night Saturday Easter Vigil, which is really a beautiful service. On Good Friday, we led a Via Cruces walk all around Koreatown and a service of the Seven Last Words, with different people speaking on each of the words. I got “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

I reflected on that moment when even Jesus felt abandoned, when even Jesus gave up hope. After I was finished, drained by the weightiness of the message and having gone without sleep for a few nights (those Holy Week rituals don’t plan themselves), I sat down, and started sobbing.

We all may know of people who are feeling like the burden of life is too heavy, and feel out of touch with God, as if God isn’t listening anymore, or God has turned away. The ones I know happen to be men, and I wonder if part of their suffering comes from the sense that they should be able to withstand any burden, or deny their feelings of grief or abandonment. Being Japanese, I was taught that I

shouldn’t cry, especially in public. And yet, sometimes the best thing we can do is to cry out our pain, or have a good sob.

For whatever reason, whenever I think of Jesus’ cry of anguish from the cross, I also see the slightest glimmer of hope even in this pit of despair. Actually, those old Christian leaders who put the

lectionary together gave us a hint. Yesterday’s Psalm reading is the second half of Psalm 22, which begins with that cry of anguish that Jesus uttered in his suffering. And most of the first half of Psalm 22 acknowledges the suffering that sometimes fall on us humans. But by verse 21, the Psalmist moves from crying out for help to an assertion that God has already rescued them, and the Psalmist can then give testimony of God’s saving grace to all.

And the lectionary reading, starting at Psalm 22:23, proclaims to future generations what God has already done:

23 You who fear the Lord, give praise!
All you offspring of Jacob, give glory.
Stand in awe of the LORD, all you offspring of Israel!

24 For the LORD did not despise or abhor
the affliction of the afflicted;
neither is the LORD’s face hidden from me;
but when I cry out, the LORD hears me.

25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will pay before those who fear the LORD.

26 The poor shall eat and be satisfied.
Let those who seek the LORD give praise!
May your hearts live forever!

27 All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the LORD,
and all the families of the nations
shall bow before God.

28 For dominion belongs to the LORD,
who rules over the nations.

29 Indeed, all who sleep in the earth shall bow down in worship;
all who go down to the dust,
though they be dead,
shall live for the LORD.

30 Their descendants shall serve the LORD,
of whom they shall proclaim for generations to come.

31 They shall proclaim God’s deliverance to a people yet unborn,
saying, “The LORD has done it.”

Maybe because I cannot live forever in that moment of abandonment and despair, I like to think that when Jesus uttered that cry of anguish, he chose to quote the 22nd Psalm, knowing that even when we think God has forsaken us, God will save us. Indeed, God already has saved us!

Yet it is hard to remember this when people are suffering. As I wrote this, I received a message from a Palestinian peace activist who is such a strong and caring person. She just wrote, “so much destruction, so many many deaths . . . I can’t take it anymore, my heart is breaking . . .”

As we continue our Lenten journey, as we face the fragility of our human condition, as we witness the third year of aggression and violence in Ukraine, as we hear of vengeful killing by bomb and starvation in the land that Jesus loved, let us preserve the faith that even in this moment of utter loneliness, the seeds of hope and eventual new life are just starting to germinate. God has not forsaken us. And yes, there will be spring. There will be blossoms of beauty. There will be life, and life everlasting.

In the peace of Christ,