“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
What is the forsakeness of our Lord? What mystery does Scripture unfold here? What do these final words of our Lord teach us?
They teach us to hope.
For Christ was truly allowed to suffer death upon the cross.
And yet, while he was allowed to suffer, while he was forsaken in this manner, never once did the father utterly abandon him.
In that terrible work, known and intended from all eternity, there was prepared the exaltation of Christ and blessing of mankind.
By that work, Jesus received a name above every name.
So while he indeed paid the debt of ransom and the price of our justification, while he was indeed counted among sinners, never once did the Father cease to hold the most intimate of unity with his Son; never for a moment did he cease to abide with him. And never in the least degree did the Father waver or withdraw even the smallest portion of his love from his only begotten Son.
His holy one was in no way abandoned to Sheol or given over to final corruption (Psalm 16:10).
Was Jesus allowed to suffer death, even that shameful death? Was he suffered to be among the dead? Was it permitted that God himself should be mocked, scourged, reviled, and disowned by his disciples?
But did the Father ever, even for a moment cease to love him? Did the Father ever for a moment hold him in any kind of contempt? Did the Father ever for a moment actually abandon his Son in nature or intention? Did the Father ever hate or forget or depart from his beloved?
Though we might speak of the affectional withdrawal of the presence of God from the humanity of Christ, that is the felt absence of God”s blessed presence and the blessings of that presence, there was never any absolute renunciation of the Father.
Quite the opposite.
The forsaking of Christ is that trial by which God actually confirms his love and consecrates his love in himself, to himself, and unto his people. It is the great reversal of our state through the cross. And it is the supreme mark of divine approval and unity (Mtt. 5:10-12).
Those words which Christ takes up in the final moments of his agony thus express the height of his suffering and the extreme limit possible in human hopelessness. They express furthest boundary of all abandonment, in which God, man’s only true hope, our ultimate, final, and greatest friend, might withdraw his presence and providential care. No greater loss is conceivable.
Thus in his humanity, Christ enters physically and psychologically into the very depth of human vulnerability. Among the things he suffers upon the cross, including sorrow for our sin, it is perhaps this which is most profound.
Yet amid this, his fundamental unity with the Father was unimpaired and unchanged. While in body and soul he affectively experiences this unspeakable loss, he is not in actuality cast aside or turned away from by the Father.
What does this teach us? What does it reveal?
It teaches us that God uses the experience of suffering, the conditions of apparent abandonment, to glorify the ones he loves.
And so it teaches us that in the midst of our own suffering, that is, when we feel most let down by God, most forsaken and lost, we have a wellspring of hope.
For it is in our suffering that he is perhaps preparing for us a crown of glory like that of his beloved Son. It is in our suffering that we can attain through faith to an innermost hope that we are indeed sons and daughters, beloved members of his household (Prov. 3:12; Heb.12:6).
In echoing this cry of Christ to God, the very complaint (the song of the lover), we enter spontaneously into the heart of Christ, the wounds of Christ. We join with him in his passion and thus in his hope.
Does not Jesus in so speaking during this moment yet reach out to the Father? And do we not in crying out do the same?
Is not his innermost heart and mind, even at the cross, looking to the God, stretching out to him even as he is in him and with him?
Is not Christ, the Word of God, even in this moment in eternal unbroken dialogue with with the Father?
When we cry out thus to God, we are united to him in the mystery of Christ’s final and ultimate act, that of conferring hid soul in its supreme crisis to the care of the Father, abandoning himself to One who will never fail or abandon him.
We too may confer our souls to the care of God, to the one who amid our desperation, teaches us that he will hold us fast, that he will never let his holy ones see corruption.
We know this, not just because of the logic of the cross and the divine unity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We know this because of the unity of Christ with the faithful throughout all time and place.
These words here teach this.
For at this crisis, Christ performs an act of remembrance, of recalling not just the Father, but words spoken previously.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” are in fact the words of the Psalmist. And so while they are divine and inspired, they are simultaneously human words, and as such they belong to us!
In them we have the assurance that if we possess some share in Christ’s passion, we have a share in his glory.
This is perhaps one of the reasons why Jesus takes up Psalm 22, a psalm which moves from agony to hope. We are called upon to remember with Christ on the cross how those words invoke not a song of despondency, but a hymn of victory, an anticipation of deliverance and divine glory. The song is thus a prophecy of promised deliverance and blessing which shall save us from suffering through suffering.
By recalling the opening of Psalm 22 at this moment, Jesus reveals that he has truly become one of us. He teaches us by remembering, hearkening to these words God has given to his people.
He has made these words, these truly human words, his own. And so they in fact speak of him even as they are spoken by him, and so they belong to him most of all.
But by faith, Christ and his words truly belong to us as well.