Good Friday, Year A
Good Friday, Year A
Sermon by Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” God forsakenness. What does it mean to be forsaken? or, worse yet, to experience the ultimate forsakenness, God forsakenness? According to my New Webster’s Dictionary And Thesaurus of the English Language (page 370), the following definition is given: “to desert, abandon, to break off from, give up (esp. bad habits) forsaken adj. deserted [ O.E. forsacan, to oppose, deny].” To be forsaken means to journey down to the depths of despair, abandonment and suffering. It is an experience involving one’s entire being. This experience of utter aloneness reflects that of: the psalmist, the sufferings of Israel, of Jesus on the cross, and all of his faithful followers of every time and place.
It is a universal cry for meaning in the face of meaninglessness. It was this sense of utter, ultimate forsakenness, abandonment and aloneness that Lutheran theologian, and father of existential philosophy, Soren Kierkegaard once spoke of when he observed: “Only when a person has become so unhappy, or has grasped the misery of this existence so profoundly that (s)he can truly say, ‘For me life is worthless;’ only then can life have worth in the highest degree.” Could this be something of what the psalmist and Jesus, speaking the psalmist’s words felt, thought, and experienced in their God forsakenness?
The cry of the psalmist, now from the mouth of Jesus on the cross—among other things—epitomises his incarnation, his message to humankind that he willingly, lovingly chose to become a human being like us and share everything human with us. It will not do to remove Jesus from the messiness of the human condition. Yet, that has been, unfortunately, the temptation of too many Christians and non-Christians down through the ages. In answer to all those who are put off by a God who suffers and is involved in the messiness of being human, biblical scholar, Joel Marcus offers this most insightful message:
As Emmanuel Levinas points out, it is a principle of Jewish exegesis that in many cases “the literal meaning leads further than the metaphor.” And so it is here. It would be misguided to try, as some have done, to save Jesus’ dignity by claiming that, while he certainly endured physical torture on the cross, he never descended into the pit of self-doubt and hopelessness, of radical lostness before God, that so often characterizes us. For if Jesus was spared such an experience, why I wonder, did he cry out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 1
It is precisely in Jesus’ humanness, his humanity that he is in solidarity with us. Nothing human is foreign to Jesus—this is especially true while he suffers on the cross and utters these words of Psalm 22. In uttering these words, he is saying to humankind: “I know how you feel, what you think, and I understand your experiences of utter, ultimate despair, meaninglessness, aloneness, abandonment and forsakenness.” He is saying: “I hurt, I suffer, it breaks my heart, and I am in the deepest of pain whenever you are forsaken; whenever you go hungry, naked, homeless, unemployed; whenever you suffer from cancer, AIDS, and other diseases; whenever you feel that you’ve lost everything in life; whenever you are abused sexually, mentally, emotionally, spiritually or in any other manner; whenever you are afflicted with the deepest of doubts about yourself, others, this world, the church, and yes, even whenever you doubt God; whenever you live under slavery, oppression, and injustice of all kinds; whenever you face and bear your crosses, I am there with you.”
That is the significance of the cross and Good Friday. Here, in this scandalous, stumbling block suffering, agony, and death God reveals God’s ultimate love to humankind. A God who is willing to go all the way by sacrificing God’s own life for us. This is the foolishness of the world and the wisdom of God; the weakness of the world and the strength of God.
The cry of Jesus from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” in addition to being the perfect expression of Christ’s humanity; is also a prayer of love and faithfulness. Even in Christ’s utter, indescribable God forsakenness, when he feels the full weight of God’s absence; it is precisely then that he still prays this prayer of the psalmist and address the Very One Whom he feels has forsaken him. Note the word “MY.” This two letter word speaks volumes. It expresses the reality that in utter forsakenness—even the ultimate God forsakenness, there is still a relationship between Jesus and his Father—these words of the psalmist are the introduction of a Psalm that runs the entire gamut of human experience. It begins with this cry of utter despair, but ends with the utmost of confidence, thanking God for healing and deliverance.
Surely in our prayer life; in our relationship with God; surely when we feel that God has forsaken us and seems most absent; these words of prayer are a reminder to us all that God is still there; that God will deliver and heal us too—in God’s own time and in God’s own way. We can give God our deepest doubts, fears, anger, sorrow and hurts. In return, God will hear us and walk through it all with us.
So, on this Good Friday, we are reminded that God draws closest to us precisely when we face our worst-case scenario suffering and are feeling most forsaken; God on the cross is in total, complete solidarity with us in our human condition with all of its multiple versions of brokenness. All is never lost, there is always a new beginning, and new life, for each one of us. There was for the psalmist, for Jesus, for Israel and the Church, for you and me.