“Eloi, eloi, lema sabachthani.” Jesus’ last words on the cross. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Many have asked why Jesus would feel that his father in heaven had forsaken him. Some have pointed out that Jesus was reciting Psalm 22 from memory, a psalm which begins with those very words “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” As a matter of fact, Psalm 22 gets even more hopeless than that. The psalmist says, “O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but find no rest.” As a matter of fact, Psalm 22 goes on to uncannily describe just what Jesus was facing on the cross: “I am poured out,” it says, “like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death. (Remember that these words were written 500 years before his crucifixion.) “A company of evildoers encircles me. My hands and feet have shriveled. I can count all my bones. They stare and gloat over me; they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.”
Even if Jesus is quoting Psalm 22, why is there so much despair? Why does Jesus feel as if God has rejected him? Well, let’s look at the rejection Jesus faced. Remember that it was after the crowds shouted their “hosannas” and laid down garments for his triumphal entry into the city that the rejection began. First, it was Judas and his plot to betray Jesus. Then Peter, James, and John sleep through one of Jesus’ darkest hours. Then Jesus is taken away and beaten. Even Peter, who said, “I will never deny you,” denied him three times. But the ultimate betrayal came from the very crowds who had gathered on the hillside to be fed, to be healed, even to be raised from the dead … these very crowds shouted for Barabbas to be set free instead of Jesus and … then …. Shouted “Crucify him!”
To me, the most chilling part of all of this is the crowds who had been his staunchest supporters. The crowds. Fickle. Flighty. Frivolous. The crowds. You and me! It turned into mass hysteria. There was no reason or reasoning behind it. One person turns, then another, then another. Everybody’s doing it An evil spirit was let loose. It became a flash mob lynch mob.
I’m convinced that this is what happened with the crowds. It was mass hysteria. Even the grand glorious entry into Jerusalem which we try to re-enact each year on Palm Sunday was part of the mass hysteria. This Jesus would be the one to get them out of their predicament. This Jesus would be King David all over again – a glorious warrior-conqueror-king who would lead Israel into political and military victory over its enemies. It was something like those old films you see of French villagers lining the steets after D-Day to welcome the liberating American troops. Love this guy. Everybody’s doing it. Wave palms. Everybody’s doing it. Cry hosanna. Everybody’s doing it. Yay, Jesus!
But then the warrior becomes prisoner, charged, and found guilty by authorities you know you will now need to please. The bad guys won. So now that frenzied momentum just sort of bounces off the wall and comes barreling back the other way. Now Jesus isn’t a hero. He is a villain. Now he isn’t savior. Now he is a political prisoner. And the cries of “hosanna” become cries of “crucify him, crucify him.” So quickly. Almost instantaneously.
Whenever we are tempted to confuse religion with emotion we need to read the story of our Lord’s passion. Whenever we are tempted to confuse the Holy Spirit with the kind of spirit we run into a pep rallies we need to come to a Palm Sunday service. Too many times do we fall into the heresy of believing that God is what goes on in our hearts. That is the heresy which says, “It must be true if I feel it to be true.” The problem there is that our feelings can change so drastically, so quickly.
But God does not come to us from deep within our souls. God come to our souls from above. His word is true whether we believe it or not. His gospel is authentic even when we doubt its authenticity. God is here and present with us whether we’ve got our toes tappin’ to lively music or whether we’re sittin’ here bored out of our gourds wishin’ we were someplace else. God’s presence and God’s salvation has nothing at all to do with our feelings, our opinions, our emotions, our desires, our anger, or our exstacy. Those things can change all too quickly and our God does not change. One day we will embrace God. Another day we will forsake God. But God does not forsake us.
Psalmm 22. The “why have you forsaken me” psalm. The one which seems to get more and more hopeless. That psalm changes right in the middle. It says, ‘although I feel forsaken, you will save.’ It says, “From the horns of the wild oxen you have rscured me. … In the midst of the congregation I will praise you,” the psalm says.
Psalm 22, the one which begins, “My God, My God. Why have you forsaken me” – the psalm Jesus chose as his own last words – ends this way:
“… and I shall live for him. Posterity will serve him: future generations will be told about the Lord and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying he has done it.” Jesus started the psalm on earth and finished it in heaven. So shall we.
Text: Mark 15:1-39