Sunday, April 24, 2011

Christ: The King of the Forsaken

Preached Good Friday, April 22, 2011

Scripture Readings:
Psalm 22:1-31; Mark 15:33-39

“My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) These words begin a Psalm that most Jews (like Jesus) knew by heart; and it ends with the confidence that comes from knowing that you have not been forsaken. Jesus was not forsaken by God, but we can depend on him feeling the words as he said them. Jesus was in exactly the right place to do this.

Everything was going as planned. And the plan was for Jesus to endure terrible, unspeakable, painful, and devastating things. We can count on these words expressing the depth of his heart, because Jesus was entering the human condition more deeply than ever.

Human beings experience suffering, loneliness, injustice, and pain. Humans experience a Grand Canyon of distance that our thoughts, and words, and actions put between us and the members of our family, and neighbors, and friends, and enemies. Humans experience a Grand Canyon of distance that the very stuff we seem to be made of puts between us and God. We don’t see God, though God sees us. We are angry and afraid, though we are loved. We cannot understand, though we are understood.

We live in a world of people who are always going too far, and who never go far enough. And so we live in a world of pain, and distrust, and conflict, and injustice, and fear, and blame. This is the ultimate forsakenness. This is the world of sin.

As a human being, Jesus had shared this world with us as one who acted among us, and as one who spoke to us and worked with us; but he had never internalized our world. Jesus was truly tempted and tested by our world; but our world, as it is. His experience was a perfect part of him but never so as to change him. He was in our world, but not of it.

On the cross things changed. Jesus remained himself, but he put our world and our life upon himself. He drew our world into himself as he had never done before, as the price he paid to give us a new life.

Jesus is God entering our world as a human, in our own flesh and blood, with a human heart and mind. The word incarnate means this. Jesus is God incarnate.

The world of the cross of Jesus is almost another kind of incarnation. It is our world of sin made flesh and fastened to Jesus. Hatred, pride, fear, hypocrisy, injustice, and abuse took physical form upon Jesus in the nails, and the thorns, and every lash of the metal tipped scourge that tore his skin, and gouged his flesh, and made him into one living, breathing, gaping, bleeding wound.

Paul writes about this in 2 Corinthians 5: 21. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Isaiah the prophet pictures this, “Just as there were many who were appalled at him – his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness – so will he sprinkle many nations.” (Isaiah 52:14-15)

Most of the time, we fake it. We do not live our daily life as if our life and the world we live in had had its picture taken. But the true picture of our lives, and our world, is the sin laid upon Jesus on the cross. The true picture of us and our world is in the words of Jesus, and the words of the psalm: “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?”

There are some lines from a play (“Our Town”) by Thornton Wilder. A young woman, named Emily, dies in child-birth and is told (within the play) that, if she wants, she can go back to any time in her life and watch. She tries to do this, but she sees how casually even her own loving family lived.

She says: “I can’t. I can’t go on. It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another.” Even at its best, something is lost, and everything carries some flavor of forsakenness.

Emily also says this: “O, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you.” Even that is a kind of forsakenness.

On the cross, Jesus came to our side in our forsakenness, and our world’s sufferings, and our world’s disappointments just as surely as he came to carry our sins. The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: “There are so many experiences and disappointments that drive sensitive people toward [hopelessness] and resignation. That is why it is good to learn early that suffering and God are not contradictions, but rather a necessary unity. For me, the idea that it is really God who suffers has always been one of the most persuasive teachings of Christianity. I believe that God is closer to suffering than to happiness, and that finding God in this way brings peace and repose and a strong, courageous heart. (Bonhoeffer to the Leibholz family, Zurich, May 21, 1942)

In his saving work for us, Jesus became the king of the forsaken. He carried our lostness on the cross.

On the cross, Jesus takes everything that alienates us from God, and from others, and from our true, God-designed self. Jesus takes our sins and our sufferings, and embodies them for us. Jesus becomes the scapegoat and offers himself in our place. He becomes the substitute who is also our friend who lays down his life for his friends.

At the Lord’s Table, Jesus, our friend, is our host. He knows the forsakenness of our sins and sufferings, for he has borne them for us on the cross. And he promises that there is a power in his sacrifice, and death, and resurrection to give us a new life and set us free. We will have life and freedom as we receive him and as we are nourished by his love.


  1. Pastor Dennis, hope you're having a great Easter!

    Thank you for this inspirational post! It just brightened up my day.
    ...and I fell really uplifted already!


  2. Thanks Betty. We all really had a wonderful time. I think the resurrection was in the air! For you and us!