“And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “E’lo-i, E’lo-i, la’ma sabach-tha’ni?” which means “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”(Mark 15:33-34)
Here is the beloved son, the one in whom the Father is well pleased and who has perfectly lived out the will of the Father. He has no sin, has done nothing wrong, and yet in this moment in which darkness engulfs the earth, he feels utterly forsaken by God.
They are the only words that Mark gives us of Jesus from the cross—not the only words he spoke from the cross, but the only ones Mark gives us. This is surely significant.
His words recall an ancient psalm of lament, the expression of a tormented soul who, despite his faithfulness to the Lord, finds himself in the hands of evil and merciless men. The connection is obvious, but though the psalm moves quickly from cries of anguish and abandonment to remembrances of the Lord’s faithfulness and then back again to anguish it ends curiously in a confident declaration of God’s certain vindication.
Could it be that Jesus had this in mind when he cried out the first words of this psalm? Is it possible that underlying Jesus’ desperate cries is the confidence that no matter how great the darkness was in this moment, it would not have the final say?
Vindication was coming. Salvation was nigh.
No doubt this is true, but as Mary Healey notes we must be cautious in holding too tightly to this insight, lest we lessen the scandal of the crucifixion. Jesus suffering on the cross is no mere instance of symbolic suffering. It was very real, so real that Richard Neuhaus calls the cross the core of all reality itself. It is the axis mundi, the axis on which the entire world, indeed all of history, spins.
And his sense of forsakenness is no less real:
“Jesus’ cry of abandonment is the climax of his progressive isolation throughout the passion narrative. He has been deserted by his friends, taunted by his enemies, insulted even by those crucified with him. He has been successively ‘handed over’ by a disciple, by his own people, by humanity (represented by Pilate and the crowd), and now by God himself.” (Healey)
“My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” –Here we have proof that whatever isolation we feel from God in the midst of our own experiences of darkness, Jesus too knows, because He has experienced it himself.
But his experience is not the same as ours, at least not in the way we tend to think. The separation from God Jesus feels in this moment is not just like our own moments of perceived separation from God; it is our separation. It is the inevitable consequence of our sin which Jesus took upon himself on the cross.
Jesus cries should have been our own.
But they are not. They are his and as such they expose the lie behind one of our deepest fears, for God has not forsaken us in the darkness, nor will he ever. There he is on the cross taking on the separation that should be ours so that we might be reconciled to him.
In the words of the old hymn: what wondrous love, indeed.
Photo source: The Agapegeek Blog,