OUR GOD, OUR GOD HAS NOT FORSAKEN US...
“Four score and seven years ago...”
“Ask not what your country can do for you...”
“I have a dream...”
For most American citizens or students of American history, those few words, those short sentences can somewhat instantly conjure up something of far greater importance than there brevity might imply.
- Hearing “Four score and seven years ago,” we recall President Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” -given at the battleground where thousands of soldiers died in order to preserve the United States as it was embroiled in the Civil War.
- “Ask not what your country can do for you” are iconic words recalling John F. Kennedy’s Presidential Inaugural Address that reminds us of a time where the American people were faced with great challenges but were perhaps more idealistic that the future could be better in the collective hands of all Americans working together.
- And when a man by the name of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s shared with the world his words, “I have a dream...” he opened the minds and hearts of many others to share that dream when there would be an end to the history of racism of our country and work to begin to make that dream a reality.
We might not recall many of the other exact sentences or phrases from those texts, but those few words are so powerful and memorable, they in a sense summon the full meaning of the entire text - even generations later.
In the midst of the Passion narrative from the Gospel of Mark we just proclaimed together, there’s a line that similarly stands out. Moments before Jesus utters his last breath, his last words are “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” In his hour of death, after the horrific, terrifying suffering he has endured in beating tortured and beaten; forced to carry this hideously heavy cross; nailed to it and then raised up so people could watch the slow, agonizing death - on the surface, hearing Jesus utter a cry like that we might think seems appropriate. And often times people look at those words, cite this as evidence that “See, even Jesus knew how bad life can get, even he doubted God’s presence in his life in his moment of trial...”
If you remember only one thing from this homily - let it be this: that’s wrong.
Because just like we summon historic events and speeches just by uttering one line from those speeches - that’s what Jesus was doing. In his last breath, his last of words he utters from the cross is meant to summon that entire Psalm - Psalm 22. And while it opens with words that are the cry of one who sounds abandoned, rejected, defeated by the only one who ultimately matters - My God - My God... You have to read the whole Psalm to come to realize that this is a psalm of triumph. It’s a psalm of faith. It’s a psalm of trust and confidence. Jesus was recalling the words of a man whom the world saw as rejected by God, but who ultimately He Believes, He knows to be the one who will “come quickly to save me” who will “deliver my soul...” who will “ save me from the lions mouth.” And because of that, the psalm ends with these words of praise and triumph:
He has not spurned or disdained the misery of this poor wretch,
Did not turn away* from me,
but heard me when I cried out.
I will offer praise in the great assembly;
my vows I will fulfill before those who fear him.
The poor* will eat their fill;
those who seek the LORD will offer praise.
May your hearts enjoy life forever!”
All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the LORD;
All the families of nations
will bow low before him.
For kingship belongs to the LORD,
the ruler over the nations.
All who sleep in the earth
will bow low before God;
All who have gone down into the dust
will kneel in homage.
And I will live for the LORD;
my descendants will serve you.
The generation to come will be told of the Lord,
that they may proclaim to a people yet unborn
the deliverance you have brought.
Hardly words of defeat... and those were the words Jesus was recalling as he laid dying. Knowing that this death was not an end... This defeat would not stand.
There is no other faith... no other religion that proclaims, that knows God as we know Him to be – Who so desperately loves each and every one of us that he unites with us in our passions, in our crucifixions. Who speaks to us in the boldest, loudest of terms that as the evil of the world crashes down on us; as we feel abandoned, rejected by those who we thought were nearest and dearest to us in those trials, our Loving God spares not his most prized possession, His Son Jesus Christ. In uttering those few words of that psalm Jesus assures us that we have not been forsaken...Quite the opposite: by Jesus stretching His own arms out on the cross for our sinfulness he unites himself with the sufferings of humanity for all eternity.
May those words of the psalm remain cemented in our minds just as the great speeches of American heroes did– But with the true meaning, the true message of the Psalm, which has radically been made evident on the cross of Jesus for us — proclaiming for all eternity that Our God, Our God has never, nor will ever forsake us.
Posted by Fr. Jim Chern