“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
I confess that I wake up with these words on my mind more and more lately.
“My God, why have you forsaken me?”
White supremacists, threats of nuclear war, natural disasters, hate and division seem to be everywhere.
“why have you forsaken us?”
Where is God in our pain? Where is God in this suffering? We struggle as individuals, as communities, as a nation, as a world. Where is God?
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The Gospels of Mark and Matthew tell us that Jesus cried out these words as he hung suffering and dying on the cross. I have always found that incredibly depressing. Jesus is supposed to be a rock, he’s the person that I look to as a model of how to be faithful. Yet, at the worst moment in his life he appears to have lost all faith; desperately crying out that God has abandoned him. How am I supposed to keep my faith when Jesus seems to have lost his?
Growing up, I didn’t realize that Jesus was quoting a psalm as he cried out his last words. Knowing that now I wonder how it might change the story, Why did Jesus choose these words as he hung dying?
Jesus’ disciples and friends – the ones who were sitting at the foot of the cross or maybe hiding within earshot – would probably have known their scriptures pretty well. I imagine that, as pious Jews, they would have spent time learning, perhaps even memorizing, most if not all of Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible, what we often refer to as the “Old Testament.” Worship services would most likely have included recitation of at least one psalm, perhaps using them as hymns. Jesus’ followers probably had at least a passing knowledge of Psalm 22.
By quoting the first line of the Psalm, Jesus is calling their attention to the rest of the words. Psalm 22 starts out as a cry of desperation but it isn’t all tears and lamentation – at some point, it turns hopeful. And the psalm isn’t only about the personal suffering of the narrator. As its message becomes more optimistic, it paints a picture of the world that would please God and focuses attention on marginalized communities.
“Those who are poor will eat and be satisfied,…
Those who had feasted and devoured the poor ─ now they’ll bow down;
the most affluent in the land will kneel before you….
my children will … come and proclaim your justice….”
The psalm remembers the suffering of others and echoes God’s call for justice. It calls readers and listeners to identify with others who are broken. This psalm does that amazing thing that happens so often in our scriptures: it simultaneously speaks to us in our own suffering while also reminding us of the needs of others.
Seeking God – following Jesus, searching for justice – is not always uplifting work. As we attempt to follow Jesus to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners, as we struggle to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned,
as we become more aware of the needs of others and open our eyes to the injustices in our world, the weight of the work presses heavy on our shoulders.
The effort seems too difficult and we find ourselves crying out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken us?”
But the message of Psalm 22, the message the Jesus prompts from the cross, is a message of hope. It takes a while but the psalmist eventually shows that God is the reason to keep going. God is the one who looks out for people who are suffering. God is the one crying out for justice.
God is our strength.
Say that, say “God is my strength.”
God is the one who gives us the strength to wake up – literally and figuratively – and see the world as it is. To see that there are children of God who suffer under the weight of hate and the pain of poverty. God gives us the strength to see.
Once we have seen, God gives us the strength to act. We are called to be co-creators with God, to create God’s kingdom “on earth as in heaven,” We are the ones who must bring God’s justice by ensuring that our neighbors don’t go hungry, that people who look and live differently than us have the same safety and rights as we do. We are the ones called to proclaim God’s love through our actions. God gives us the strength to act.
And when it feels like too much, God gives us the strength to rest. That’s one of the reasons we gather here, to find a place of Sabbath. In this place, we gather as community – as church – to pause and pray and recharge our weary hearts and minds. When the world and the work begin to weigh us down, God gives us the strength to rest.
Then we can try again. We listen for God’s healing and guiding words, then we see God’s vision and hear God’s wisdom for what comes next so that we can re-engage the world and once again proclaim God’s justice. God gives us strength to try again.
See, act, rest, try again.
That’s the message of Psalm 22, that’s the message of the crucified Christ. God gives us the strength to see, act, rest, try again. See the world as it is, Act to make God’s justice real, Rest when you are tired, so that you will have the strength to try again.
See, act, rest, try again.
Say that with me: See, act, rest, try again. See, act, rest, try again. See, act, rest, try again.
When we are feeling desperate and alone, no more than a worm, may we remember God’s strength. When we are beaten down by the world, may we feel the love of the Crucified One. May we know peaceful rest and the power of the Holy Spirit as we follow the Divine path to see, act, rest, and try again. Amen.