“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus’ words from the cross rattle our bones and shake our soul by turning our Godly assumptions inside out. Is it that God is abandoning his son, his only beloved son? Is the burden of the world’s sin so great that a holy God must avert divine eyes? Is our Lord and Messiah, the one who fed thousands, walked upon the water, and healed the sick, calmly reciting the 22nd Psalm reminding us that even in the midst of despair God is to be praised? Did Jesus offer these words because he knew that we, too, feel as if God has forsaken us when prayers are answered with silence and “the good life” is anything but? It is no exaggeration to say that there are hundreds of answers to Jesus’ disturbing question. Over the last two thousand years any theologian worth the title has offered meaning to Jesus’ desperate cry, so this morning I would like to offer a single thought, which is this: God completely empties himself so that he might assume those whom he desires to redeem. To put it another way—God becomes godforsaken so that the godforsaken will have life.
For Jesus to cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” is to reveal that God’s heart within the Trinity is breaking. God, himself, is experiencing death. This is the moment in which the “Our Father” becomes “My God.” Throughout the Gospels, when Jesus prays, he prays to his Father. Now, his prayer becomes “My God.” It is both personal and newly distant. His prayer now becomes “My God” because the divine essence within Jesus is dying with his humanity. Stanley Hauerwas puts it this way: “Christ [dies] on our behalf and in our place. Hear these words, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ and know that the Son of God has taken our place, become for us the abandonment our sin produces, so that we may live confident that the world has been redeemed by this cross.”
It is no accident that Jesus prays in the words of the 22nd Psalm. Praying the psalms offers our life form. The Psalms invite us to praise, to sing, to cry out in anger, and to lament. Although Christ dies in our stead, Jesus’ cry from the Psalms gathers those whom God loves together into one body, again as Hauerwas writes, “The life of Jesus has been the perfect prayer the Psalms are meant to form.”
In this moment, the “Our Father” becomes “My God.” In this moment God is self-emptying and becoming godforsaken so that we who are far away will be drawn into communion with the divine. In this moment, our assumptions that faith offers “the good and prosperous life” are shattered. In this moment, Jesus cries through the Psalms, offering our life to be conformed to his, the one who “Emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross,” so that we might also be united in his Resurrection.
I pray that you remember, believe, and trust in God’s self-emptying love, so that you can go into the broken places of the world and proclaim a life of Resurrection which can be shared today and forever; a life with no fear because Christ has conquered death. God abandoned himself, so that we, and the whole of creation, would never be.
Rev. Matt Rawle
Broadmoor UMC, Shreveport