My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?…
He has not disdained the suffering of the afflicted one… but has listened to his cry for help. – Psalm 22:1, 24
At supper, they are all there. Perplexed, but confident. Sure of themselves, celebrating Passover. Yet Jesus is solemn. He serves the bread and wine of God’s promises, and says: “these are my body and blood, to nourish you.”
In Gethsemane, Jesus is overwhelmed with grief. They’ve never seen him like this. “Stay here with me?” he asks. But they sleep. “If possible, take this cup from me,” Jesus pleads with his loving Father. Not the cup he has shared with friends, this cup is God’s judgment on Unlove. Untruth. Greed. Arrogance. Violence. Jealousy. “Not what I want; what do you want?” prays Jesus.
Three times Jesus returns to draw strength from his sleeping friends. At his arrest his friends run for it. Leave. Get lost. Except Peter. He sneaks into the place where Jesus is questioned, accused, spit upon. Where is Peter? There in the courtyard, swearing: “I don’t know the man!”
When nails are driven into his hands, Jesus’ friends have fled. Scattered. Those he has taught and healed are sheep without a shepherd. And Jesus is forsaken. Alone.
Isaiah said he would be: God’s beloved Son would carry our pains: “all the things wrong with us. … It was our sins that …ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins! He took the punishment, and that made us whole. Through his bruises we get healed.” (Isaiah 53:5-6, The Message).
As Jesus identifies totally with our sin—yours and mine—he is cut off from God. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Where are you? Since he was a child, Jesus has revelled in God’s love. Now, at the moment when he fully embodies God’s love, Jesus finds himself God-forsaken. Lonely to the core.
Here’s the strange truth: in Jesus, God himself has waded into our loneliest moments. Our darkness. In our sorrow, our failure, our fear, our suffering, where was God? He was there. Jesus is Emmanuel, “God-with-us.” On the cross. He does not deny his faithless friends. In effect, he says: “I know them. I love them. I am here. For them.”
Jesus is there. Lifting our burden. Going the distance. By his wounds we are healed.
“My God, why have you forsaken me?” begins Psalm 22. It paints Jesus’ death in stunning detail. And then it envisions an unfathomable turn-about. A rescue to set the world rejoicing.
In his song, You were on the cross, Matt Maher writes:
And where were You when all that I’ve hoped for, …when all that I’ve dreamed
Came crashing down in shambles around me?
You were on the cross, my God, my God, alone
You died for us, alone, alone.
You were on the cross, victorious, all along, all along
You were there in all of my suffering
And You were there in my doubt and in fear
I’m waiting on the dawn to reappear.