Sermon Series: Questions Jesus Asked
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; August 23, 2020
12th Sunday after Pentecost
Repeatedly, Jesus uses the art of asking good questions to turn people’s worldview upside down. In essence, he seeks to create a reality from the words his mother sang before he was born. “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…his mercy is for those who fear him…he has scattered the proud…he has brought down the powerful…and lifted up the lowly…he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty…according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and his descendants forever.”[i]
Jesus comes to make all things new, but his mission will only be accomplished by helping people see the world and their role in it differently. A paradigm shift is what Jesus is after, and nothing less. But change does not come easy, and sometimes, change comes at great cost. So, for all his good deeds and his endeavors to expand the thinking of those around him, Jesus ends up hanging on a tree. It is a ghastly scene. And surely the most difficult of Jesus’ questions is spoken from this place—directed not to an individual—but to his Abba Father. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” All seems lost because Hope is dying on a cross. Now what?
Elie Wiesel was a teenager when he and his family were taken to the Auschwitz concentration camp. His book entitled Night, records many of his memories. He witnessed the death of his family, the death of countless strangers and friends, and the death of his own innocence. In addition, he experienced despair as a deeply observant Jew confronting the evil of mankind.
In his book, Wiesel tells about a particular incident that happened one day in the camp—a hanging. As horrible as it is to imagine—hangings weren’t uncommon but there was something different about this one because a young boy was one of the three to be hanged and to hang a child in front of hundreds of onlookers was no small matter. In fact, the regular executioners refused to go through with it, so others stepped forward to do the deed.
In Wiesel words:
All eyes were on the child. He was pale, almost calm, but he was biting his lips as he stood in the shadow of the gallows…“Long live liberty!” shouted the two men. But the boy was silent. “Where is merciful God, where is He?” someone behind me was asking. At the signal, the three chairs were tipped over…Then came the [obligatory] march past the victims…Behind me, I heard the same man asking: “For God’s sake, where is God?” And from within me, I heard a voice answer: “Where is He? This is where—hanging here from these gallows…”[ii]
God hanging from a tree. God with us—Emmanuel. Great is the mystery of our faith! Still we cannot help but ask, “Why?” From The Letter to the Hebrews we read:
It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters…. Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death…. Therefore, he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God…[iii]
Jesus suffers as we suffer. Jesus is tested as we are tested. And the final result of his incredible sacrifice and boundless mercy is this—we are set free from bondage to all that would threaten to undo us. And through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ we can rest assured that there is nothing we go through in this life that God does not go through with us.
But we look at Jesus on that Friday we call good, and we cannot help but think it should have been otherwise. Surely there is a sense of numb disbelief as we gaze at our Lord nailed to a cross. Any second, we expect him to unleash the power at his disposal and come down. It is what his followers expect. But instead, moment by moment, the life blood of Jesus drains from him and he grows weaker, until finally, it appears he has given up on himself and on his Abba Father, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
When Jesus breathes his last breath, the curtain of the temple is ripped asunder. One writer explains,
At that moment our souls are torn in two. At that moment the living love between God the Father and the incarnate Jesus Christ is torn in two. At that moment the disciples’ hope for the defeat of Rome and the rule of Jesus on earth is torn in two. But this is not the end of the story. Hopes and dreams may have been cast to the earth, but other things are destroyed—things that need to be destroyed. Now, “the barrier between God and humanity is torn in two. The record of our sin is torn in two. The reign of death is torn in two. And finally the shroud of our grief and fear is torn in two by the joy of the resurrection, which is just three days away.[iv]
As Jesus hangs from the cross crying toward the heavens, we see the darkest moment of his life—of God’s life. But let us never forget, this is not the end—quite the opposite.
Woven into the story of Jesus’ anguishing death, there is another story worthy of reflection—the way creation participates. As if in solidarity with Jesus, the earth quakes and rocks split asunder. Creation joins in the lament of God’s own Son being rejected by those whom God created. But if we delve deeper, we realize that creation has always been a part of God’s Story. Genesis starts out with, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” and “Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind.” Then later, “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life…”
One of the most poetic narratives in the Bible comes near the end of the Book of Job when God tires of Jobs questions and starts asking a few of his own. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?” These words speak of God’s adoration of God’s created earth.
Paul writes in his Letter to the Romans that creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God. And as a final point, Revelation concludes with the theme of God’s creation participating in God’s salvation story as a river of the water of life appears, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and on either side of the river is the tree of life with twelve kinds of fruit and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
Healing? It is what the nations need—have always needed—and it is through Jesus the Christ that healing comes. But healing is not needed for people, only. It is also needed for creation—rivers that are now filled with trash, rain forests that are disappearing before our eyes, mountain sides that are being stripped bare. What have we done to God’s good earth? A Native American Proverb comes to mind: “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children.” But I ask you, “What will we have to hand over to our children in another generation?” It all seems hopeless—too far gone—how could we possibly make a difference? Yet, isn’t it exactly when all hope seems lost that God is at God’s best? Remember Paul’s words, “For whenever I am weak, God is strong.”
On that Friday we call good, there is no doubt that Jesus is in anguish when he cries out to his Abba Father. No wonder the rocks split, the earth quakes, and the temple curtain is torn in two. All seems lost but things are not always as they seem. Friday, it may be, but let us never forget, the joy of resurrection is just three days away. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
[i] Adapted from Luke 1:46-55
[ii] Elie Wiesel, Night, 64-65.
[iii] Excerpts from Hebrews 2.
[iv] The Rev. Whitney Rice @ http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2014/03/23/palm-sunday-a-2014/