This moment for Jesus is a far cry from the one on the mountain. There, he stood with his three closest friends- Peter, James and John. There, God’s presence was affirmed in the bright cloud which appeared overhead. There, God’s voice proclaimed publicly once again, “This is my Son, the Beloved;”
Now, God’s presence does not appear in such a tangible form. God’s voice is silent. No public affirmation of his identity. No reminder that he is God’s beloved. Instead, he is surrounded by the noise of dehmanizing voices mocking him. Alone. Most of his closest friends have left him in the valley. Jesus is left in anguish, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Seemingly alone; yet surrounded by a crowd.
And like a child whose parent is in the room but not within sight, a cry erupts from his gut.
“Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?
Eloi. Not Abba.
Hours earlier, Jesus began the descent into desperation. The predictions of betrayal began to materialize. The road ahead of him began to appear. He needed his human companions the most-to touch, to pray, to weep, to simply stay awake and offer presence. But they failed his expectations.
“And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, “Abba, Father...(Mark 14:35). Abba-The word is recorded only three times in the N.T. The nuance is undoubtedly familial. Jesus still reaches out to the one he knows without a doubt sees him and will comfort him.
But, on the cross, something has changed. Eloi. Not Abba.
According to Father Brown, In his essay, “Jesus’ Death Cry,” if we accept that Jesus in the garden could still call the Father Abba, then we should accept this cry as“screamed protest against abandonment wrenched from an utterly forlorn Jesus who now is so isolated and estranged that he no longer uses ‘Father’ language but speaks as the humblest servant.”
The familial bond is strained.
Is it possible to feel both abandonment and connection at the same time?
Jesus, in his gutteral cries points to the answer. Although it appears to us to be a breathless wail signifying betrayal, his words speak of hope.
Jesus recites the beginning of Psalm 22:one that begins, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Jesus and anyone else familiar with this Psalm would have known it moves toward hope. as is evidenced by the turn in its middle:
“he did not hide his face from me,but heard when I cried to him.” (verse 24)
The whole prayer of lament was ingrained in his mind and in his spirit-even if his lips never finished pouring it out.
Though no voice bellows from a bright cloud above, though the darkness intensifies, though life literally drains from his body, Jesus still knows God is there. His cry tells us that there is still relationship-even if it changed.
Author Aubrey Sampson, in her book The Louder Song writes,“What kind of God do we have? He is not a passive, distant, deistic God, but an incarnate God. A God who reveals his withness in our darkest hours. An Immanuel God, a God who is transcendent over all creation but imminent with his people.”
Jesus’ cry punches us in the gut not only because we compassionately feel his pain, we have tasted it as well.
Like Jesus, we are Beloved. And that identity will hold hope for us when nothing else can.
This post was originally delivered as part of the “Seven Last Words” of Jesus on April 19, 2019 at Hope Covenant Church, Orland Park, IL. You can find the whole service here: http://orlandhope.org/media/103139-2824999-1838960/seven-last-words?fbclid=IwAR3LcjIRcv8UqUOtpF7Sbb0O94uZE82S-Fw8vxZLEgwEG9bjqYlHkbsZCvE