Matthew 27:45-49

From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.” At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” Matthew 27:45-49

Three hours. Three tortuous hours. Finally Jesus cries out, not to those who are taunting and tormenting him, but to the God who has forsaken him.

When I was a kid I remember wondering how this could be. How could Jesus (who is fully God) be forsaken by God? I used to wonder the same thing in the passages where Jesus prays. Is he talking to himself? It was a mystery to me.

Then I went to the seminary and studied Christology, that branch of theology that focuses on the person of Jesus. I learned words like hypostatic union and adoptionist. I got good grades for all my work. I headed off to be a pastor and lo, these many years later, it still remains a mystery to me. It always will.

But what is not a mystery to me is how it feels when it feels like God has utterly disappeared from my consciousness. (Notice how that sentence combines feeling and thinking.) When life turns dark and hopeless, my mind might remind me of how Jesus said, “I will never leave or abandon you” or the biblical assurances of God’s continuing presence in all times and places but my gut tells me that I’m all alone. I’ve been fooling myself to trust in God. The only thing that makes any sense at that point is “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Luther said that the greatest of all sins is despair. This sounds strange if you tend to think of “sin” only as moral failures. Despair is a feeling. We have no control over our feelings, we just have them. But if you think of “sin” as relational brokenness, as disconnection, as isolation, then Luther’s idea makes sense. And so does Jesus’ prayer.

Yes, Jesus does feel cut off from God, abandoned, forsaken. In this, Jesus bears our sin on the cross. But what does Jesus do with that? Jesus takes it to God. Jesus prays about it. And in that prayer, we need never again feel disconnected from God when we are in the darkest places of our lives…because we know that Jesus himself was right there too. For us then, with us now.

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, in the darkest of moments, in the agony of your death, you reached out to God with your sense of being cut off, abandoned, rejected not only by the people you loved but by the God from whom you drew your life. We pray today for anyone who finds themselves in that place of deep despair. Come to them. Encourage them. Remind them that they are not alone. You’ve been there and you are there with them. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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