Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?
Today is Good Friday, the day we commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus and his death at Calvary. We call it "good" rightly because of the implications Jesus' death has for believers. Our sins are now washed away by the blood of the lamb, and we can now spend our lives here on earth and later in paradise in the presence of our Savior. His death and resurrection are at the forefront of all that God has done for us. Praise God.
We also remember, on Good Friday, the intense suffering that Jesus sustained at Calvary. Never should we forget the amount of anxiety and sorrow that old rugged cross yielded for our Lord. It was this torment that drew from Christ's mouth the question, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?", that is, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" These words written in Matthew 27:46 and echoed in Mark 15:34 lay bear the nature of Jesus' experience on the cross. The Son of God, cloaked in our sin and our shame, was utterly alone.
Abandoned by his father, Jesus died on the cross. None of us can truly imagine the weight of his sacrifice. In agony, he cried out to God, but the continued mocking from the crowd remained his only answer. Even Jesus, fully God and fully man, suffered complete and utter despair from the nails that pierced his skin and the abandonment that struck his heart.
Suffering is a shared human experience. We experience it differently from our brothers and sisters across the globe, but we each know or will come to know the word on a personal level. Whether it is the drowning of our souls in a sea of anxiety or the constant, piercing pain of loss, I need not look into your life or mine further to understand that we are all familiar with suffering. Perhaps some of us have even cried out to God in a similar fashion, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani!?"
King David, greatest king of Israel and a man after God's heart, also cried out in despair in Psalm 22:1. He writes, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest." (Psalm 22:1-2)
Do these words sound familiar? Do we need to try so hard to understand on a personal level the exact same despair that both David and our Lord express in Scripture? Does this lonely experience truly elude us?
You may have not have shouted these words verbatim, but perhaps you have found yourself resonating the same cry of suffering. You may have carried in your heart the same fear, the same anxiety, the same forsaken despair that wrestled Psalm 22:1 from Jesus' mouth. You may have found yourself lost in sorrow. Always we remember the question. Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani!?
I do not know what loss some of you have experienced. I do not know through which levels of pain you are currently surviving. Even now, millions are experiencing loss and fear because of the recent global pandemic due to COVID-19. Some of you may be experiencing anxiety, pain, or loss. Some of you may be shouting out, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani!?"
On Good Friday, we remember Jesus' sorrow. We remember his pleading in the Garden of Gethsemane. We remember his surrender to the Roman guards. We remember his relinquish to the different officials that put him on trial. We remember the beatings, the mocking, and the crown of thorns forced on his head. We remember his cry of abandonment, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?"
And we remember that these were not the last words he spoke before his death. The gospel of John records, "When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, "It is finished", and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit." (John 19:30)
The culmination of the master plan set forth early in the book of Genesis (3:15) dragged through the thousands of years of constant struggle between a loving God and a condemned people finally manifested itself in the pronoun, "it". It is finished. Tetelestai. We celebrate Good Friday because on that day more than two thousand years ago, the veil was torn and our sins washed away. We remember τετέλεσται.
Beloved, through the trials and tribulations we suffer in life, we can remember that Jesus Christ died on the cross and suffered through the most damning torment we can imagine, so that we would not have to. Elizabeth Barrett Browning once wrote in a poem:
Yea, once, Immanuel's orphaned cry his universe
hath shaken -
It went up single, echoless, "My God, I am
It went up from the Holy's lips amid his lost
That, of the lost, no son should use those words
"No son should use those words of desolation!". We are free, bought with the precious blood of Jesus Christ. Whatever heartache, fear, or desperation we face, we have this blessed hope, this unquenchable light at the end of the tunnel. David, in the midst of suffering, continues in Psalm 22: 23-24 "You who fear the Lord, praise Him; all you descendants of Jacob, glorify Him, and stand in awe of Him, all you descendants of Israel. For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; nor has He hidden His face from him; But when he cried to Him for help, He heard."
The feeling of abandonment and loneliness in the face of difficult trials and our trust in our Lord are not mutually exclusive. We can plead to God in despair and believe that he hears our cry. We can ask, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" and remember τετέλεσται.
I do not know what you are currently facing. I do know that we will all at some point experience some intense suffering. I also know that, because of what Jesus did on the cross, that we will never be truly abandoned. I remember because of Good Friday, we have an unconquerable hope.
I know because τετέλεσται, that we will never be alone.