Good Friday 2019
April 19, 2019 Calvary Baptist Church, Haverhill
Ecumenical 7 Last Words Service: The 4thWord
Rev. Laura Everett
Around the ninth hour, Jesus shouted in a loud voice, saying “Eli Eli lama sabachthani?” which is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
And at the ninth hour, Jesus shouted in a loud voice, “Eloi Eloi lama sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Here, at the fourth word, at the cross, we are at the crux of our faith, revealed and mysterious. Theologians give us words to try to make sense of this. Deus Absconoditusis the Latin term, the hidden God, the unknowable God.. And for the reformer Martin Luther, the opposite of Deus Absconoditusis Deus Revelatus, the God who reveals God’s self. Absconding and revealing, unfathomable and disclosing. God is both, Luther claims. Knowable and unknown. God both reveals and hides in the cross of Christ.”I believe in the sun, even when it’s not shining.
The sun is not shining. The darkness has covered the land. And from the cross, Jesus cries “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? “
My God, why have you forsaken me?
Jesus cries out. And God is silent.
Look closely at his words, Church. “Eli Eli lama sabachthani?” which is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The Gospel writers want to make sure we notice that Jesus is asking this in Aramaic. He’s not speaking the Latin of the Roman Empire. He’s not speaking the Hebrew of the religious services. No, he’s speaking his own language, his mother’s tongue, he speaks his childhood language, Jewish-Palestinian Vernacular Aramaic. He speaks as the people speak, our words on his tongue.
Church, this is not a whisper. These words are not spit under his breath, no. It is a loud cry, with everyone looking on, that Jesus turns to God and demands, “Why have you forsaken me?”
Or as my friend Segun Idowu preached, “Where the hell are you, God?”
Church, I feel that anger. I feel my words on Christ’s tongue. I wonder where God is when so many are spending this night in a cold shipping container at the Southern border, in solitary confinement of a supermax jail, in the isolation of addition, in the cage of an abusive relationship, in the hell of a closet, in the despair of eviction, in the marathon of the picket line, in the grips of mental illness, in the trap of dementia, in the fortress of loneliness. We call out, “my God, why have you forsaken these?” Maybe God wonders why I have forsaken all these people, too.
This is a cry of anger, and a real demand that God account for God’s absence. For generations, Christians have been too nervous to say that Jesus experienced abandonment. We were too pious, or some of us, maybe too privileged. We were nervous to say that Jesus was wailing, was bereft, was crying out and God did not answer. And so we made it a performance.
We said, “Oh, he’s just quoting Psalm 22 to fulfill prophesy; he didn’t really mean it.” We made it palatable. We make it slick and sanitize the scandal of Jesus’s words on the cross. He didn’t really mean it.
You can hear it in the Mark translation, if you go on a little further- the crowd says, “Oh, he’s just calling down Elijah.” It’s just prophesy. They clean up the words that sound blasphemous. He’s not really calling on God who has abandoned him.
But this is no performance, this is no mere fulfilling of prophesy. This is no checklist of omens to enact. Jesus cries out in anguish. His body is breaking. His enemies are mocking. His community is scattering. His lungs are failing. A desperate man, cries out, with no one left to save him.
No, Jesus Christ isn’t faking, isn’t joking, isn’t fronting, isn’t playing. Jesus isn’t pretending. This is deadly, desperately serious. I know Jesus isn’t faking because this crucifixion is real. My God is flesh and bone. My God is humiliated. My God is betrayed. My God has holes in his hands and gashes on his side. My God is battered and bruised and hung upon a tree. My God is left hanging, left waiting, left alone.
My God, My God why have you forsaken me?
My God is abandoned. (long pause)
And we sit in the darkness.
We wait by the phone.
We pace the house,
and the street,
and the Church waiting for God.
And from that cross, a gift of these words. A gift for us below, us who doubt and believe. A gift for the angry, the wavering, the weary. A gift for the destitute. Jesus gives us not the semblance of abandonment, but the lament of one who is desperately, utterly alone. A gift from the cross so that we might eternally know that our God knows the depths of our despair.
Because, Church, in His words from the cross, I hear Jesus call to a God steady enough to take our wavering, a God strong enough to take our anger, a God heartbroken enough to take our lament, a God faithful enough to take our rejection, a God compassionate enough to always, always, always, receive our angriest of prayers. You can trust this God.
This is our God. A God who is wide enough to hold it all, our faith and our doubt. Our closeness and our wandering, our devotion and our betrayal. Our love and being forsaken. His arms are this wide on the cross, wide enough to hold all of our anger, our despair, our lament.
This is our God, and we are gifted these words, that they might be our words. That in the dark night of the soul, we might cry out with Jesus’s words. My God.
In this lament, in this cry of desolation, there is still a relationship. My God. My God. Not some other god, but My God. This cry is a profound act of faith. A presence gone but still claimed. I think of my friend Scott Hauser, a pastor who died at 37, just months after starting at a new church, leaving behind a wife of 15 years and 4 young children. After his death, a plea from his widow Lara Hauser. Lara asked us to keep speaking of Scott. Keep naming Scott. Keep talking of Scott even though he was gone from this world, because Lara and their four children could feel his absence. She needed us to keep naming Scott, even though he was gone. And from the cross, Jesus named his God, my God, Our God, who was gone.
Our God has been with the people in the depths of despair, in the darkest hour, in the longest night, in the valley of the shadow of death. The shadow from the cross is long. It feels like morning will never come.
And yet. Are not these words the crux of faith? And yet.
I believe in the sun, even when it’s not shining.
I believe in love, even when I can’t feel it.
I believe in God even when God is silent.
I know this is true because I’ve heard it sung. I’ve heard the songs of those enslaved, who were born into slavery, would die in slavery and still caught the vision. “Over my head, I see freedom in the air” And Church what is that next line? “There must be a God somewhere.”
There must. There was. There is a God somewhere. There is a God at Calvary. Even as Jesus is abandoned. My God. My God, My God, Why have I forsaken thee?
The United Methodist composer Mark Miller put these words to music. Just 3 lines of a poem, written by an unknown Jewish captive, scratched into the walls of a Nazi concentration camp in Cologne, Germany. We do not know anything of the poet. We do not know whether they were young or old, male or female, rich or poor. We only have their words, their testimony.
I believe in the sun, I believe in the sun, even when, even when it’s not shining.
I believe in love, I believe in Love, even when. Even when I can’t feel it.
I believe in God, I believe in God, even when. Even when God is silent.