The following sermon was preached on Good Friday, April 6, 2012 at Divinity Lutheran Church Parma Heights, OH, based on the passage Matthew 27: 45-49.
That is a word I have been hearing a great deal within my community lately.
I attend seminary at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. Located in the famous Southside of the city, my community is known for many things – the White Sox, the DuSable Museum, Lake Michigan, jazz.
The Southside also has a name for its relationship with violence. This relationship makes the odds that you will be connected to gangs and/or homelessness to over 60%, and is why in this city over 17,000 children are labeled as “food insecure”. These statistics are easily overlooked when glamorizing the “Windy City” with memories of a river turned green or shopping on the Magnificent Mile. When people speak of the great city of Chicago, Southsiders often feel forsaken by the sensationalized impact of our Downtown and Northside counterparts. There is a division among the city, and is much broader then the Cubs fans verses Sox fans.
In the wake of the death of Trayvon Martin, a young African American male who was profiled and murdered in Florida a month ago, people within my community have been vocalizing racial injustice issues found in our own backyard. Three weeks ago, the Chicago Tribune reported that in one week in the Southside, 49 children under the age of 18 were shot, ten of which died. These ten lives that were lost too young were a fraction of over 300 children who were killed since 2008 from gun related incidents in the Southside of Chicago alone. Over 300 children in four years, and we aren’t even halfway through this year yet.
There is a division in my community. Right now, on any given Sunday at any given church in the Southside, the words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” are not strange to voices raised in prayer. I am sure our survivors and families grieving from the Chardon School shooting last month are also feeling the weight of those words, also feeling a division between their experience and the experience of their neighbor. As we read this passage of Jesus’ words on this most holy of days, we know all too intimately what it means to feel forsaken.
For some of us, we feel forsaken by our communities in a time of violence and racial injustice. For others, we feel forsaken by our friends who fade into the background as we wade through the murky waters of divorce. We feel forsaken as we spend hour after hour interviewing for jobs that never quite pan out. We may say, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” as we see the red in our check books, or as we sit in through yet another round of chemotherapy. We may feel that we are forsaken every time we risk our sobriety and are tempted to resort back to our favorite drug of choice.
There is division among us, and its anthem cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
I don’t know about you, but I am made incredibly uncomfortable by this passage from Matthew, specifically with the word “forsaken.” I was so uncomfortable, in fact, I double checked to make sure this wasn’t some faulty literary translation. I double checked the Greek source of this passage because I hoped that this was one of those times, maybe providing us some sort of theological wiggle room where “forsaken” perhaps could mean something else.
I even went so far as to check the corresponding passage in the Gospel of Mark. There it was again – καταλείπω. Forsaken. Just as there is no avoiding the moments when our lives are filled with pain, when we feel that we are utterly alone, we cannot avoid that Jesus on the cross cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
This moment on the cross puts a bad taste in our mouths, equally as bitter as the vinegar that was given to Jesus upon the sponge. We can get lost in our feelings of division, and when we hear Jesus cry out those words, it is easy to miss the good news in this message.
The good news of this message is that while these words are Christ’s, they were first ours. Jesus does not create this anthem on the cross, but echoes this anthem from our ancestors. He is repeating the words of the psalmist, the songs of his community.
The psalms were written after the Exodus, after the Israelites had left Egypt and had settled into what they thought would be the end of their problems, their promised land. These were people like the many who thought they were finding refuge in the great city of Chicago only to discover the poverty and violence of the Southside. These were people like the many who now doubt if their hometown of Chardon is as safe as they once thought. The psalmist wrote the turmoil of the people who thought they had found safety but instead found division and despair.
Voicing the people’s pain and doubt, the psalms served as anthems voicing the troubling thoughts of the community. When Jesus cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” he is voicing the anthem of the people who felt forsaken and ignored. Jesus does not shy away from sharing words that are as familiar to the ears of his community as the hymns we are singing together today in our community.
The lyrics from one song, Psalm 22, go like this:
1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.
3 Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
4 In you our ancestors trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
5 To you they cried, and were saved;
in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.
6 But I am a worm, and not human;
scorned by others, and despised by the people.
7 All who see me mock at me;
they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
8 ‘Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver—
let him rescue the one in whom he delights!’
There is a division among us, and when Jesus cries out our anthem, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?,” we should stand fast in recognizing that it is a cry of solidarity. The psalmist tells us to commit our cause to the Lord, and upon the cross Christ is telling us that his commitment is to our cause.
Jesus cries out not because he is forsaken but because he knows that we feel forsaken. Jesus cries out not in recognition of his own pain but in relationship with ours. Even in the midst of extreme agony and torture, he is crying out for for our worries, placing our needs before his own. He is reassuring us that we will not be abandoned, left behind or deserted.
Through Christ, the word “forsaken” is transformed from a symbol of despair to radical good news. It is such good news that it is hard to grasp, one that is easier for us to taint with the vinegar that is our skepticism.
It was such radical good news that even the bystanders gathering at the cross couldn’t process it. It was easier for them upon hearing those words to sneer, “This man is calling for his Elijah.” It was easier for them to mock then to accept that they could be supported so intimately. It was easier for them to assume that Jesus was thinking of himself then to accept that his love for us is above his own needs and transformative. It was easier because radical solidarity is not of this world. When Jesus makes our anthem his own, we are forced to have faith that we will never be forsaken again, and that faith is a holy thing that is given to us as a gift from the Holy Spirit.
Christ is with the family of Trayvon Martin and the parent grieving around the world as they cope with the loss of their children. He will not forsake them.
Christ is with the students of Chardon every day as they courageously return to their studies. He will not forsake them.
Christ is with us interview after interview, helping us reassess our budgets so we can turn our red balances into black. We are not forsaken.
Christ is with us as our bodies are ravaged apart by chemotherapy, as we struggle with our addictions, as we suffer from food insecurity, as we search to find affordable healthcare, as we mourn the loss of our marriage, or even when we just feel blue. We are not forsaken.
Christ is in solidarity with us, has been to the point of suffering on the cross for our sin. This is radical good news! This solidarity comes from a love that is beyond our understanding, and completely despite of ourselves. Just as Christ made our anthem his, we too can make his solidarity ours.
As Christ’s representatives in this world, we need to stand strong with those who feel forsaken and build bridges in places of division.
We show solidarity with prayer, by gathering at the font, communing together with bread and with wine. We show solidarity by not shying away from telling the hard stories of our community but by uplifting the poor, whether they are poor financially or poor in spirit. We show the solidarity of Christ every time we ask someone how they are feeling when we see pain etched in their faces. We show the solidarity of Christ when we go to Redeemer Crisis Center or help out at the Cleveland Food Bank to fill the stomach and cupboards of people labeled as being “food insecure.”
When in despair our neighbors cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” we help them remember that Christ reframed that anthem as he died upon the cross. And in helping them remember that the bridge of our division is found in Jesus, we allow ourselves the space to remember that the word “forsaken” has a new meaning now. In Christ, “forsaken” is radical good news.