This is the radio devotion I recorded for Monday of Holy Week 2020.
Thanks to KCNI/KBBN for airing devotions by the Custer County Ministerial Association.
Good morning. This is Matt Fowler from Broken Bow United Methodist Church. With the spread of the COVID-19 virus, everything seems a little uncertain right now, and so, this week, I’m exploring five historic spiritual practices, or disciplines, that can help us experience God’s presence in the midst of our daily lives. And because it’s Holy Week, I’m going to be looking at Jesus’ last words spoken from the cross. Adam Hamilton develops these ideas in his book, The Walk, which my church has been reading during Lent.
Before jumping in, it’s important to note two things. First, the seven last words are collected by reading across the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Each include different statements from Jesus. Second, because of the brutal reality of crucifixion, saying each of these things would have increased Jesus’ pain during crucifixion, and yet he found it important to say these things. These two things add weight or importance to these statements: they cost Jesus dearly to say them, and the early Christian gospel writers thought they were so important that they included them in the gospels.
Matthew and Mark tell us that, just before Jesus died, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46, Mr 15:34, NRSV). This is sometimes called the “cry of dereliction,” because it expresses a sense of being abandoned. Thinking about all that Jesus endured in his final hours – betrayal, beatings, carrying the horizontal beam of the cross through the crowded streets of Jerusalem, the nails, the mocking, and the thorns – is it any wonder he felt abandoned by God?
Theologians have argued for centuries about if one can ever truly be abandoned by God, but hearing Jesus cry out these words in prayer is, in a way, comforting. It shows that when we’ve felt like we’ve been abandoned by God, that Jesus, God-in-flesh, felt that way too. Presently, perhaps there’s much in our lives that make us feel alone, abandoned, or afraid. There’s the spreading virus, and fear of infection. There’s also feelings of inadequacy in our work, or parenting, or our relationships. Any of these can lead us to question God’s presence in our lives.
But here’s where Jesus’ cry is especially powerful. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” is the first line in Psalm 22. It’s a prayer of David that Jesus is reciting. Jesus isn’t just crying out. Jesus is praying. And so, from the cross, Jesus is modeling the way of faith. Even when we feel like God has abandoned us, the way to seek and experience God’s presence is to build or find our strength in our practices of prayer.
But there’s still more to this prayer. Jewish tradition may have been similar to our own traditions. We might say, “Let’s pray the ‘Glory be,’ or the ‘Our Father,’ and when we do, we know that we mean an entire prayer that starts with those phrases. If Jesus is doing this, then he invites us to look at all of Psalm 22, which ends, not with more cries of dereliction, but with professions of faith: that “the poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD…[and that] dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations” (vv. 26, 28). Jesus may pray that he feels abandoned, but he also knows that God is always present and always working for good in the world.
In the midst of this week, may we pray like Jesus, expressing our deepest fears, yearnings, and doubts, but may we also find in prayer that God is with us.