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
Several years ago, my preschool son drew a picture of Mary and Joseph. Not just any picture, mind you. Usually, the manger scene as represented through the eyes of a child wielding a crayon finds its place on a paper canvas. But Eli’s mind captured a different scene in the narrative. He captured what he believed to be Mary’s perspective on a long journey.
“Are we there yet?”
Long journeys arouse restlessness in my youngest. He tends to be very organized and finds comfort in checking off lists. Oh, he loves adventure and even surprises but he’d prefer them to unfold in a brief, orderly process. His eye is fixed on a goal and arriving there according to his timeline and expectations of the journey. Imagining Mary on a long trek to anywhere brought empathy from him.
Little did he realize that traveling to Bethlehem signified a very small milestone on the road leading to God’s purposes for her.
Only nine months earlier, this teen found herself ordained to a new purpose. Unexpected, Holy. Scandalous. Sometimes new paths entice us with a sense of exciting adventure. Although Mary offered praise to God for this new calling (Luke 1:46-55), I’m not sure even she fully understood the earthly ramifications of such a journey.
How do we respond to those seasons in our own lives when we suddenly find that the familiar path we are accustomed to trodding is closed off?
A detour sign emerges-signaling that the better route is the new, unfamiliar one. Reluctantly we begin; not knowing where it will take us. Unaware of what we may encounter along the way. Often, it seems, the detour takes way longer to arrive at the destination than had we taken the shorter, familiar one. At least that’s what we believe. But….the detour sign was there for a reason.
Are we there yet?
As the detour continues longer than anticipated, we grow weary. Surrendering ourselves to the One who plots our course can take us to places we’d rather not visit. The physical, emotional and spiritual compressing takes its toll on our earthly selves. Haven’t I walked far enough? Is there something else of which I need to let go?
Nearly nine months into her pregnancy, she and Joseph were required to register for the census in their hometown. Not convenient for this couple. Three grueling days is the estimated time span of traveling by foot from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Ninety miles were spent navigating a rugged terrain and daunting hills. In addition, the chilly weather, dense forests of the Jordan Valley, and hidden predators made the trip particularly dangerous.
However, it was not as dangerous as the place that exists outside of the will of God. Mary, in her praises to God, acknowledges the accounts of God’s character displayed through His people. Merciful. Strong. Provider. Creator. Sustainer. Holy. With those narratives alive in her mind, she kept walking.
Are we there yet?
The detour continued. Did Mary wonder if her detour culminated with Jesus’ birth? Is that “there?” As she feels the baby wiggling, does she ponder where along this road, the promised King living inside her would make his debut? “There” may have appeared as a foggy destination.
Henri Nouwen writes, “To wait open-endedly is an enormously radical attitude toward life. So is trust that something will happen to us that is far beyond our own imaginings. So, too, is giving up control over our future and letting God define our life, trusting that God molds us according to God’s love and not according to our fear. The spiritual life is a life in which we wait, actively present to the moment, trusting that new things will happen to us, new things that are far beyond our imagination, fantasy, or prediction.” (“The Spirituality of Waiting”)
Mary trusted that God was weaving a narrative far beyond her own imagining. And that is why she kept walking. To “There.”
As I ponder Mary’s journey, I am reminded of my own detours. Some I have embraced. Others have been met with protest. The new journeys took me into unfamiliar territory. Some treks I would prefer not to take again. Yet, God walked with me. And molded me. And loved me. And assured me that I had nothing to fear.
Because no matter my destination, or where I think it may be, God is with me. Always.
When I question the unexpected turns, God is with me.
When I stagger because my body is worn from fighting evil forces preying on my soul along the way, God is with me.
God is with us. Immanuel.
14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you[a] a sign: The virgin[b] will conceive and give birth to a son, and[c] will call him Immanuel. Isaiah 7:14
Because of Him we have hope. We have no need to fear wherever life takes us. Like Mary, we can keep walking.