When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, ‘Listen, he is calling for Elijah.’ And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.’ Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’
There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.
There is intense heartbreak in this passage and I fear that we simply don’t hear it or we try to explain it away. We are becoming ever more desensitised to the cries of the desperate and dying because we see them all around us in films, on the news, in our gaming, and all over charity ads. In the case of Scripture, we have, perhaps, made it all too ‘holy’ or have read it time and time again.
Whatever it may be that has lead us to this place of not hearing – stop and listen.
‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
This is the human cry that breaks open our mouths in a shout to heaven; when we have no strength or hope left, when there is nothing else to be said, when the Psalmist’s ‘valley of the shadow of death’ has given way under us and we feel completely alone.
This is our Good Friday ending before we can consider the light at the end of the tomb.
We must dwell here in the heartbreak. We must remember the moments in our own lives that have led us to cry out to God. We must take a moment to hear Jesus cry out again and again in the drowning migrant and war battered mother. We must ask His question “why have you forsaken me?”
And yet. Yet. Even in this moment of death when Jesus is at his physical, emotional and spiritual end, there are moments of compassion and love that speak of God’s presence. Moments that say “Jesus you are not forsaken”. Sour wine reached up on a stick. The women watching on in pain and prayer.
Hopefully we have known those moments to.
Perhaps, as it is thought, Jesus quotes Psalm 22:2 as he cries out. And just perhaps, in his mind as his voice fails him, he continues to recite that psalm. And perhaps, hopefully, as he feels the last touch of human life, he will have known the words: “To Him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before Him shall all bow down who go down to the dust.”
This could have been where I ended – but I fear I have done exactly what I shouldn’t have. I have tried to find hope and love and compassion rather than to stop and live with the heartbreak. I have made it holy. I have done everything other than let Jesus death break my heart as it broke his.
There is no more that I should have said but this: ‘Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last…’
O God, Sit with us in the darkness we pray And grant us peace. Amen
The Rev’d Martin Knight is the minister of St Paul’s URC, South Croydon.