“My God, why?”

a sermon, based on Matthew 26.14-27.66, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday, April 9, 2017

“Ēli, Ēli, lema sabachthani?”[1]

Of all the words of Jesus, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” ring in undeniable harmony with the human cry of sorrow and shame provoked by the experience of betrayal and abandonment.

Jesus was betrayed by Judas with a kiss.[2]

Kiss of Judas (1304–06), Giotto (1266-1337), Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, Italy

I wonder. What kind of kiss was it? An apologetic, ambivalent brush against the cheek; Judas, for the sake of his own survival, with the opposition against Jesus growing fiercer by the day, turned him in, but now had second thoughts? Or a bruising, resentful crush of lips on lips; Judas, disappointed, angry that Jesus wasn’t as he had hoped, a mighty militant Messiah who would run the Romans out of Palestine? Or a mercenary, eyes-wide-open peck on the forehead; Judas, for purely material gain, selling Jesus out for thirty pieces of silver?

Whatever. It really doesn’t matter. Judas betrayed Jesus with an act of familiarity, even fealty.

Anything like this ever happen to us? Anything like this ever been done by us? Severing a relationship with a loving gesture; a kiss or a seemingly tender word, for example, the now-proverbial, “It’s not you, it’s me.”

Jesus was abandoned by Peter, the chief disciple.

The Denial of Saint Peter (1610), Caravaggio (1571-1610)

Peter declared his loyalty to Jesus. “I’ll never desert you!”[3] Then, under the pressure of self-preservation, his confidence overcome by cowardice, he blurted out his betrayal, “I do not know the man!”[4]

Anything like this ever happen to us or been done by us? Standing apart from another, even a former dear friend. Ignoring phone calls and email. Averting the eyes to evade a needy look. Avoiding past meeting places and potentially awkward encounters. Perhaps, in fairness to ourselves, under the pressure of changing circumstance, not knowing what to say or do, nevertheless, acting as if the other didn’t exist.

Jesus was betrayed by Pilate, the Roman governor.

Pilate Washing His Hands (c. 1655-1660), Luca Giordano (1634-1705)

Pilate believed Jesus was innocent. Yet, bowing to mob-rule, he symbolically washed his hands;[5] for the sake of political expediency, abdicating his responsibility to do the admittedly risky, but right thing and free Jesus.

Anything like this ever happen to us or been done by us? Having the authority, the ability to act to benefit another, yet, in response to our preference or prejudice or fear, choosing not; thus, leaving the other to face loss or to lose face.

My point? Jesus’ experience reflects, is our experience. People fail us. We fail people. We know the experience of Judas’ betrayal, Peter’s denial, and Pilate’s dismissal in receiving and giving. It never feels good, never is good when it happens, whether to us or by us.

Yet more…most devastating, Jesus was abandoned by God.

Crucifixion (c. 1618-1620), Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640)

“My God, why have you forsaken me?” This is the prayer of one who believed he was following, fulfilling his life’s calling, yet found himself plunged into a bottomless pit of lonely Godforsaken suffering. “My God” (I do not question your existence, but) “why have you forsaken me?” (I do question your silence!).

Anything like this ever happen to us? Believing, trusting in God, then, at a time of crisis, at a critical, crucial, crucifying moment our calls, our cries for help answered by silence; feeling abandoned and the absolute absence of any sense or solution. We pray it doesn’t happen often, for it’s the sort of thing from which we don’t, can’t recover soon or at all.

Jesus cried, “My God, why?” I wonder. What did Jesus think, feel when the divine response was a deafening silence. Matthew doesn’t speculate, telling us only that “Jesus cried again…and breathed his last.”[6]

Perhaps this is the lesson of the cry of Jesus, the lesson of the cross, the lesson of any crucifixion. To yield to the experience. To surrender in the fight to find sense amid nonsense. Metaphorically, but no less truly, to breathe one’s last. For only then, if there is to be a resurrection, can it come.

 

Illustrations:

Kiss of Judas (1304–06), Giotto (1266-1337), Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, Italy

The Denial of Saint Peter (1610), Caravaggio (1571-1610)

Pilate Washing His Hands (c. 1655-1660), Luca Giordano (1634-1705)

Crucifixion (c. 1618-1620), Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640)

Footnotes:

[1] Matthew 27.46

[2] Matthew 26.49-50

[3] Matthew 26.33

[4] Matthew 26.72, 74

[5] Matthew 27.24

[6] Matthew 27.50

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2 thoughts on ““My God, why?”

  1. Paul,

    I was super busy every moment this weekend and had even said I’d skip church to sleep in, yet I went to tape the Passion Liturgical
    Dance. I never had a chance to read this sermon until now. Probably should not have read it at work.

    YES all those things have happened to me. People have failed me and I have failed people. Only once though do I remember it happening with a kiss. When I left my ex-fiancé standing on a corner when he wanted me to forgive him and take him back after he left me standing at the altar on our planned wedding day.

    That’s an important event in my life because I would never have met Tim had I taken my fiancé back. Almost 40 years later, it was excruciatingly painful when I felt that God had forsaken me almost as Tim lay dying. What had we done to deserve this? When are you going to swoop in and take him off that ventilator? But of course we know the answer to that question. He didn’t. But He did assure me that I’d be able to live a full life, and maybe even change the lives of others, even without Tim.

    So now I press on, committed to following Jesus even through my pain. Knowing how this feels I am much more considerate when I deal with people now to ensure I don’t intentionally cause any hurt. It’s just too much pain! I hadn’t ever thought about all of the feelings related to ending relationship with a kiss until now. Thank you for making this story come alive for our lives today.

    With love and thanks!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lord, have mercy, Loretta, your response is – as all of your responses are – poignant and powerful.

      As I craft a sermon, I always seek to connect and hold in creative tension scripture and life experience. And there are moments when I am amazed when the Spirit breathes life into my labor so to produce a word that is helpful for others. Yet more amazing for me is your response, for you deepen in a dramatic way – through recounting your experience with your former fiancé, finding Tim, praying for his restoration to wholeness and health, and pressing on in and through your life without him, though always with Him (God) -what I sought to share. In a word, your bring my sermonic bones to bolder life through the flesh (details) of your life. Thank you for honoring and humbling me with your honesty and integrity!

      Love

      Like

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