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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Good Friday 03/29/2013

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Of the seven words we consider today, forsaken is probably the most difficult one to hear.  It’s difficult because this isn’t Jesus as we like him; it’s not Jesus cool and calm and in control and that can be troubling.  Our Christian theology says that Jesus is fully human and fully divine and we accept that as a matter of faith, but with this word maybe Jesus is a little too human: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  It’s not what we expect. 

From an Old Testament perspective though, which is where this word comes from, Psalm 22, from an Old Testament perspective this kind of prayer, this kind of lament is not unusual, in fact it’s quite typical in the Psalms, the prophets, all over the place.  They were accustomed to addressing God this way.  But this is not how we pray; it’s not our style as Christians because what this kind of prayer does is to hold up life at its worst along with…a vehement demand that God respond.  We’re not comfortable doing either of those things. 

We’re taught to consider the ways we’ve been blessed, not to dwell on the bad things even when things are bad.  “Stop feeling sorry for yourself,” we’re told…but here Jesus himself acknowledges the depth of the absence he feels.  What might bother us even more than that though is the boldness, the audacity to address God this way.  We’re taught to defer to God, to praise God in all things or maybe we place it on ourselves to figure out what God is up to; it must be part of God’s plan, we say, we just can’t see it at the moment.  It’s not that there isn’t truth in that but it can cause us to pull back from honestly acknowledging the reality we’re living; if we want God to change things we’re polite about it because again, who are we to question God? 

Plus…this is Jesus.  Didn’t he know that the God he called Father wouldn’t forsake him, wouldn’t abandon him?  Didn’t he know that everything was going to be OK?  Didn’t he have faith?  How could Jesus pray like this?

But he does, and it is a kind of prayer that makes us uneasy.  This is a word that we might just as soon skip over.  We don’t want to think about Jesus being this human.  It’s funny though, because of all of today’s words this might be the one that we can identify with most closely.  Is there anyone here who hasn’t at some point felt abandoned by God?  We’re good Christians, we put on a brave face so no one questions whether or not we have enough faith to deal with the tough times. 

But in honesty we’ve all been there with those feelings of being forsaken and with that we’re blessed to have this word from Jesus from the cross, a word that is a word of faith.   It’s a word of honest faith that doesn’t sugar coat things and pretend they’re other than they are, but what it also is, is faith that trusts in God’s ability to transform the situation.  For us then, the question this may raise is, do we have enough faith to pray this prayer, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Do we dare to be that honest with God?

So much of our prayer is vending machine prayer; put your prayer in the slot, push the button for the answer you’re looking for, and wait for it to drop out of the machine.  God, give me this, grant me that.  Deliver me, rescue me, save me.  All of those are legitimate prayers; those are all things we need and in fact Psalm 22 eventually goes in that direction.  But note that with this word, Jesus didn’t ask for any of that.  All he wanted was presence rather than absence.  He did trust in the God he called Father, but at that moment of pain with the life draining out of him, he couldn’t feel it; in his lament all he could feel was loss and absence. 

This word doesn’t give us Jesus as we like him; it raises all kinds of questions, discomforting questions.  Among those questions are questions about God, in particular, questions about our image of God, questions that can be difficult to resolve within the limits of our human minds.  What we want to think is that God is kind of like us at our best, just bigger and more powerful and of course minus all our negative traits.  So God should always be kind and compassionate, considerate and caring, loving and of course all powerful.  That’s what we want and if any of us was God that’s what we’d be; we wouldn’t allow for any suffering, injustice or inhumanity. 

But the reality of the cross and especially the reality of this word of forsakenness from the cross throws all that up for grabs.  This just doesn’t fit with who we want God to be.  Because what is this crucifixion if it’s not suffering, injustice and inhumanity, suffering, injustice and inhumanity that God apparently allows to happen.  What we discover here is that God is not always like what we think we’d be like if we were God, and that can leave us feeling abandoned and forsaken.  Again, this may be the word that brings us closest to Jesus on this Good Friday, especially if, in our feelings of abandonment, with Jesus we can offer this prayer, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Not everyone can do it; not everyone can offer a prayer like this because if you do it’s upsetting; it creates tension that you might not want to deal with because in part, what you acknowledge is that your image of God has let you down.  God apparently isn’t always sitting powerfully in heaven just waiting to swoop down and save the day, to rescue you from all pain and suffering.  With the prayer of lament though, you open the way to a different image of God.  With lament, what you find is the God of the cross, a God who doesn’t always fix everything, but a God who suffers with you, who hangs with you on whatever crosses life serves up to you.  It might take awhile though, because this God isn’t a vending machine.  It might take awhile, and it might mean honestly acknowledging feelings that make you uncomfortable, but with the new orientation of God having entered into your suffering, that suffering is transformed. 

God is there with you just as he was with Jesus, suffering with him on the cross, even though, in his humanity, in our humanity, that presence feels like absence.  That “suffering with” though, that compassion is the love of God that we find today and it really is the reason why this Friday that seems so bad in so many ways is paradoxically called “good.”  God’s love is hidden in the cross, although it’s a love that even Jesus, in his humanity, questioned.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  It is perhaps the most human of Jesus’ words from the cross.  It’s evidence that when God became human in Jesus, he did become fully human, subject to the same sense of loss and absence that all of us are subject to, subject to the same questions that we all have.  In Jesus God enters into our humanity, not some make believe humanity that never experiences questions about God’s presence or absence, that never dares to be this honest.

Good Friday is a day to sit with such questions, questions that Jesus had, questions that we all have.  Easter Sunday is coming, but we don’t get there without going through the absence of Friday.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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