This morning at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church here in San Ignacio we had a three-hour Good Friday service on the seven last words of Jesus.
Six church members and I, the United Methodist interloper at St. Andrew’s, gave meditations on Jesus’s seven last words, which are actually more like the seven last phrases of Jesus uttered from the cross.
I spoke on the “fourth word,” in which Jesus cried out to God:
“My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?”
Here’s the word I gave on that outcry by Jesus from Mark 15: 34:
“My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me!”
Contrary to what some might think, Jesus did not speak English. . . . Jesus didn’t even speak Spanish, or Kriol or even Mayan, obviously.
He spoke an old, pretty much now-dead language called Aramaic.
But I want you to imagine, just for the purposes of this reflection, that Jesus DID speak English even from the cross. We know that he said from the cross, in the ENGLISH translation, “My God! My God! Why?”
But we can only guess exactly HOW he would have cried out those words in English. We can only guess the kind of emotion he was expressing because we can’t possibly know. We can only guess at the word or words he emphasized in that outcry to God.
1. Maybe he said like this:
“My GOD! My GOD! Why have you forsaken me?”
Maybe he was just screaming out in his agony the way WE sometimes commonly shout out “My GOD!”
That’s almost an automatic reaction when we have to pain or something terribly shocking to us, isn’t it?
If we’re in severe pain we might reflexively scream out, “My GOD! I can’t take this pain anymore!”
Have you ever reacted to physical or emotional pain by crying out something like,
“My GOD! I can’t TAKE it anymore?”
I sure have.
2. But MAYBE Jesus said it like this”
“My God! My God! Why have you forsaken ME?” As if to say, “ME! OF ALL PEOPLE! How could you do this to ME! Your own SON!”
Raise your hand if you’ve ever cried out to God, “My God! Why ME! Why am I suffering like this! I’m one of the good guys!”
I’ve had many of those “Why me?” moments for sure.
3. But it’s entirely possible, I think, that Jesus was steaming mad when he said those last words.
“With those precious hands nailed to a tree, he couldn’t shake his fist at God–he couldn’t shake a fist at his Father, that is, but maybe he WANTED to in that agonizing moment.
I’ve always said that I picked great parents, that my parents loved me and did everything they could to ensure that I would have a better life than they had growing up.
But that’s not to say that I didn’t get so angry or put out with the old man that I didn’t want to shake a fist at him sometimes.
Which I don’t think I ever did even in our most heated moments because he might have broken my hand. He didn’t take kindly to sass from us McKay boys.
* * * *
I served for a considerable number of years as a hospital chaplain, ministering to people laid really, really low by illness and injury and impending death, and giving pastoral care to their families and loved ones as well.
I also served two full years as a chaplain in hospice care. Hospice is care given to people who are dying–people who have no chance of living more than maybe six months or six days or six hours.
It was common in my experience with sick and dying people or their families to say to me, “I know I’m not supposed to get mad at God, but…”
And many times, I would stop them right there and say, “Whoa! Wait a minute. Where in the Bible is it written that we can’t get angry as all get-out with God the Father? Where is it written that we aren’t supposed to question God?”
The Bible is full of people wracked by some kind of pain who ain’t at all happy with God.
The Psalms, most of all, are full of what we call Psalms of Lament, or Psalms of Complaint, where the Psalmist is sort of shaking his fist at God in anger or utter frustration with God, who seems to have grown cold or abandoned even the most faithful of believers.
And, in fact, when Jesus said, “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me!”–when Jesus had that moment in which he obviously felt God had abandoned even him–he was quoting from a Psalm.
Can someone tell me which Psalm that was so I can find it and read it????
Yes, Psalm 22–and I want to read some of it to you, starting with the very first verse, which is–what do you know?”—“My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?”
That line didn’t just come to Jesus’s tormented mind in the moment, but rather was a direct quote from Psalm 22, a most prophetic Lament Psalm.
So here is some more from Psalm 22, and think about Jesus on the cross as you hear these words from Mark:
1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.
3 Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
4 In you our ancestors trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
5 To you they cried, and were saved;
in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.
6 But I am a worm, and not human;
scorned by others, and despised by the people.
7 All who see me mock at me;
they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
8 ‘Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver—
let him rescue the one in whom he delights!’
9 Yet it was you who took me from the womb;
you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.
10 On you I was cast from my birth,
and since my mother bore me you have been my God.
11 Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.
Now, notice that as down as the Psalmist is, and as much as he feels abandoned by a deaf God who seems to refuse to hear his cries, he turns right around and says to that same God:
“Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.”
And if you read the rest of the Psalm, you will notice that the poor guy, who feels lower than a worm, for gosh sakes, hasn’t abandoned his faith and hope in God!
That’s how lament Psalms and stories end up in the Bible: we see people complaining to God, but not losing faith–they remain in CONTACT with the father because they know deep down that God is too good and trustworthy and loving to actually abandon or go cold on us.
So my whole point is—it’s OK for us to be angry or frustrated or doubtful about God in EXTREME situations of pain or grief or suffering. And we will have duress in life–the rain falls on the evil and the good no matter how devout the good guys are.
But Jesus himself CERTAINLY understands our pain and doubt and anger. He and the Father know good and well how excruciating our pain can be in life.
While it’s all right to be most unhappy with God, the WRONG thing to do be to stay STUCK in anger or frustration and doubt about God.
God is a big boy–God can take our complaints, and will hear them in a merciful and understanding way.
But our forsaking–abandoning God–that’s another matter.