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?’
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.
“Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama, sabachthani? That is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
I don’t know about you, but growing up we never spoke about the pain and agony that Jesus felt on the cross. We barely even mentioned him on the cross. My viewpoint was definitely G rated and could actually be something out of a Disney movie. The cross in my mind was pretty and made out of perfectly carved wood. The two pieces of wood that came together nestled nicely. The wood itself was smooth—not rugged and it was clean—no sweat or blood is present. Now thinking back about this first image of the cross I had etched in my mind, there is a nice hum of a choir of the hymn “Old Rugged Cross” playing in background. Knowing now what I know—the scene that day was anything but pretty.
This is a painful cross, one made of rough wood with lots of splinters. A gory cross, not a pretty sight at all with blood and sweat running down forming pools on the ground. Instead of a low hum of angelic choir, there is only the sound of hammer and cries of pain and agony. Does the pain become too much? Is it more than his earthly body can bear? This when he releases the familiar words from Psalm 22: “Eli, Eli, lambach sabathani?” My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
To my ears, it almost sounds like a cry of defeat,”Why, O why, God did you let this happen to me?” “Why is there so much pain?” “Why must the innocent be the ones to suffer?” “Is all of this really necessary?”
This cry on the cross, perhaps echoes some of our own feelings of forsakenness (those times when we feel separated from God, left all alone in our places of pain and hurt). “God, where are you?” “Where are you when I need you the most?” Right now, in this cry, we see Jesus in his full humanity. At this moment, he knows and understands perceived alienation from God. He understands the human fear of separation and abandonment.
The Protestant theologian, John Calvin asserts that when we talk about Jesus’ descent into hell, we are speaking of this moment in time when Christ feels the rejection of humanity (from those who shouted “Crucify Him” to his own disciples who fled at his arrest) and his separation from God.
And yet, even in this his darkest moment, he still turns to God and says” My God, My God.” Even in this moment, when Jesus does not feel God’s immediate presence (and is in physical anguish because God does not take this cup, the cup of suffering from him) Christ still believes and trust that God is there. And not just there, but in the midst and center of all His pain.
It is in this cry, this crying out, that Christ encompasses our suffering, our alienation, and our sins making them His own. And through His agony and pain, has brought us deliverance from our sins and separation. Three verses later in Matthew, the temple curtain in torn in two, forever removing the barrier between God and us.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” These are the words spoken by a fully human Christ in his place of greatest pain. These are also the words that remind that we are not alone in those places of our greatest pain. Thanks be to God!