FEELING LENT – ABANDONED ON SKULL HILL
April 5, 2020 Palm/Passion Sunday
Over these Sundays of Lent we are feeling Lent! We are exploring in this series of messages the waves of emotion that wash over Jesus during his final days in Jerusalem, while also encountering how these emotions speak to us in our life’s journey.
On previous Sundays, we have witnessed Jesus experiencing exhilaration on Mt. Olive Road as he enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. We have seen him filled with rage as he cleanses the temple of supposedly holy persons committing unholy exploitation of disadvantaged folk. We ran into confusion in the Upper Room as Jesus takes on the role of a slave, washing his disciples’ nasty feet.
There was defiance on full display as Jesus exhibits courage in the face of hatred before the religious leaders and Pontius Pilate, followed by the humiliation inflicted upon Jesus’ body and soul by soldiers in the Praetorium.
Now we come to the pinnacle of pain endured by our Lord: abandonment on Skull Hill, better known as Golgotha…better known as that hill far away – Calvary.
From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.” Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.” And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.
“Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani”—“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
This, my friends, is a soul-searing, soul-sucking, soul-sinking cry of abandonment.
What does it mean for you and me? It is this—Jesus is forsaken so that we will never be forgotten.
When have you felt the most forsaken, the most alone, the most abandoned, in your life’s journey?
Perhaps it was a time before you were scheduled to have some serious surgery. Although a family member, a friend and perhaps your preacher were there offering support, they still could not go under the knife for you. It was a frightening experience as they wheeled you down that corridor to the operating room. And you had to face it by yourself.
Maybe it was a time when, as a child, you became separated from a parent. One of those indelible events I’m still able to recall from my childhood occurred one afternoon when I was about 5-years-old. I was with my mother in the Miller & Rhodes department store in downtown Richmond.
Growing up in the boondocks of Southside Va., I had not had the thrill of riding escalators. Well, Miller and Rhodes had 8 floors connected by escalators. I could not resist the temptation. I wandered off from my mother when she wasn’t looking, and I proceeded to have the time of my life riding from one floor to the next on those moving steps. I even ran down the ones going up.
But about a half-hour later, when I decided it was time to return to Mama, I couldn’t recall which floor she was on. I was terrified. I panicked, jumping off on each floor, running around, screaming her name. Nothing looked familiar.
Finally, I heard a familiar voice calling for me on the housewares floor. It was the best spanking I ever received as Mama swatted my behind while hugging me tightly and sternly telling me I’d better never try such a trick again!
Many years later, on March 12, 1983, my mother went through her own bout of forsakenness. Late that evening, on the day of my father’s funeral, I watched at a distance as my exhausted mother walked tearfully and trembling to the bedroom she and my dad had shared for 41 years. She said she knew it was something she had to do. And there she tried her best to go back to sleep. To this day I cannot imagine how hard that was for her.
Forsakenness wears many different hats. Some of us have felt it as we went through a divorce, others when we dealt with a debilitating disease or handicap. Perhaps it came from the loss of a job or at the occasion of leaving home for college or career. Perhaps we are feeling that abandonment right here, right now, in these pandemic times.
Needless to say, that emotion of abandonment is a powerful one. It cuts to the core of our very being.
THE ULTIMATE FORSAKENNESS
None of us, though, can ever know the depth of pain of being seemingly abandoned by God. Jesus, and Jesus only, experienced the sheer intensity of this form of suffering.
Yes, as Jesus hangs on the cross that fateful Friday afternoon, the sky darkens with bleakness and turbulent winds begin to howl. From his lips comes a cry out of the lowest depths of despair—the most gutwrenching words to ever pierce the atmosphere of this world, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”—the words of the 22nd Psalm. It is a cry of utter loneliness and desolation that you and I cannot fathom.
There is a mystery behind this cry that is too massive for my puny mind to wrap itself around. But this is what I believe: Jesus came into this world to fully identify with you and me in every way. He worked as we work. He faced temptation as we face temptation. He enjoyed happiness as we enjoy happiness. He hungered and thirsted as we hunger and thirst. He endured the failure of friends, the malice of enemies, the heartache of losing loved ones, the pain of suffering—just as we do.
Up until this moment on the cross, Jesus had gone through every experience common to you and me except one—he had never known the consequence of sin. This was the one human experience through which Jesus had never passed, because he was without sin.
And yet, in order to identify completely with our humanity, the scriptures testify that “He who knew no sin was made sin for us.” II Corinthians 5:21. Yes, there is no degree of human experience which Christ did not plumb.
And it is in this terrible, grim, bleak moment of anguish that God looks the other way as his Son absorbs the sin of all humankind upon his blood-drenched body. The penalty for such sin is separation from God. For the first time in his entire life, Jesus experiences estrangement from his heavenly Father as he bears your sin and my sin on the cross.
We don’t like to hear this in our “I’m okay, you’re okay” generation, but the fact is whoever we are, whatever we do, we all share one thing in common–and that is we are sinful, sin-filled, people. We have missed the mark. Saint Augustine once wrote, “Whatever we are, we are not what we ought to be.”
It is way too enormous a mystery grasp: While we were yet sinners, Jesus takes upon himself the separation from God that you and I rightly deserve. He suffers and dies upon that cross that we might be free from the chains of our sinfulness; that we might be saved, for now and for eternity.
Yes, Jesus is forsaken so that we will never be forgotten.
Does this mean anything to you? Have you come to terms with this ultimate sacrifice? Have you wrestled with its implication for your life? Does it have any impact upon the way you live and see the world? Jesus is forsaken so that we will never be forgotten.
Paul writes in his letter to the Romans: 6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Georgia nurse Letha Love is a woman of faith who has wrestled deeply with the implication of all this. She believes God has called her to put her life on the frontline for others in caring for victims of the corona virus. She swallowed her fear and joined many of her fellow health care workers from the Atlanta metro area in coming to New York City in mid-March to volunteer in a hospital overrun by the disease. She has been working exhausting 12-16 hour shifts each day, caring for patients and trying to lift the spirits of other nurses as well.
Letha said in an interview, “I didn’t know how serious it was until we actually got into the hospital. They need all the help they can get.” And Letha is living out that call in response to the love Christ has placed in her heart for others.
Such sacrifice is illustrative of what Christ has done for us all and calls each of us to consider in our own lives.
Each of us needs to come to a reckoning with this love, this sacrifice. We need to ponder it deeply.
Yes, Jesus is forsaken so that we will never be forgotten. Jesus is forsaken so that we will be never be abandoned. Jesus is forsaken so we will never walk alone now and for eternity.
Our Lord gives us the opportunity to be forgiven and fulfilled with hope for both now and eternity.
Jesus is forsaken so that you, yes—you, will never, ever be forgotten. Surrender your life to Jesus and this Good News this day, and know the joy of life transforming friendship with him, now and forevermore! Amen!