Image result for grunewald crucifixion of christSeven Last Sayings
Wesley Chapel
West Virginia Wesleyan College
16 April 2019

At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’

Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34

Have you ever felt abandoned? By a friend? By your family? By the church? By God?

Abandoned: ditched, deserted, disowned, discarded, isolated, repudiated, cast off, cast aside, cast out, left out, left for good, left for dead, forgotten, forsaken.

Abandoned.

I suspect that those who have felt abandoned by the church or by God are not here tonight. That’s one of the ironies of Holy Week, isn’t it? That those who’ve been most wounded by Christianity aren’t likely to be present to discover, possibly, the consolation, ironically, at the heart of Jesus’ own cry of desolation.

We pronounce no judgment on their absence. We do not shame the friends who cannot be where people gather to tell this impossible story about friendship and betrayal, terror and hope, exclusion and mercy, imperial power and divine grace. A story given shape and substance in the life of a first-century Palestinian Jew whose raw, vulnerable humanity can sometimes make religious people like us uncomfortable.

For, if we’re honest, like the poet Mary Karr, we have to say to Jesus who hangs helplessly, raggedly, a little comically on the Empire’s preferred instrument of torture:

You’re not the figurehead on a ship. You’re not
flying anywhere, and no one’s coming to hug you.
You hang like that, a sack of flesh with the hard
trinity of nails holding you into place.

It’s a scene of utter humiliation, utter abandonment.

And we shouldn’t try to explain it. The words of abandonment, placed on the lips of Jesus by the Gospel writers appropriating the Psalms, are a mash-up of Aramaic, Greek, and Hebrew. Which might mean that we have to live with the limits of language, the confusion of human speech, and with the truth that sometimes we can’t understand each other.

As one writer has said, “We do not tell stories as they are; we tell stories as we are.” And sometimes our stories, and the stories of people we love and of people we despise, are stories of forsakenness, of “belonging gone bad.”

The silence that ensues from that cry of desolation on the cross—a silence we can’t explain away with our noisy clamorings—is perhaps the opening of a space. And perhaps, in time, some will be able to safely enter that space and without fear speak their stories of forsakenness, of belonging gone bad.

Perhaps we can say to our wounded friends: we will hold your stories of abandonment and we will trust you with our own wild and weird stories, and together, maybe—who knows, this is fragile, fraught work—we will tell a different story.

A story of a first-century Palestinian Jew who emptied himself of every possible pretension, every temptation to power, every seduction of Empire. This peripatetic Rabbi, breaker of boundaries, of social taboos, of unjust laws, who taught that sin is the “addiction to being less than ourselves.”

A story which invites us into its telling, and into the consolation that there is no where in our own or anyone’s godforsakenness that the vulnerable, humiliated, abandoned Jesus hasn’t also been.

It’s a start anyway. Can we tell that story? Can we be that story?