Sermons

Fri, Mar 30, 2018

God-forsakeness

Homily for Good Friday
Series:Sermons

"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?''

 

Biblical scholars are wont to point out that that's a quote from Psalm Twenty-two...

in which the Psalmist, at first, decries God's absence... but, later in the Psalm, moves to an assurance of God's presence. 

And scholars often postulated that...

because Jesus cited the first... 

then the second should be assumed. 

But why?

Perhaps the author of Mark's Gospel might want us to think that.

After all, he wrote his story decades after the event;

and he wrote it to make a theological point--

to say something about his understanding of, and belief in, Jesus.

But does that interpretation of this saying make sense of the actual historical event?

Does it make sense of the event in the life of the historical Jesus?

 

I don't think so.

Frankly, it's a short and slippery slope from that sort of theologising...

to the crucifixion scene in Monty Python's Life of Brian...

with people hanging from crosses singing: "Always look on the bright side of life".

Any attempt to lessen the mental anguish... 

the sense of profound abandonment... 

or the sense of utter god-forsakenness... 

in Jesus' experience of the cross is-- 

ultimately-- 

a denial of Jesus' humanity.

When Jesus--

the real, flesh and blood Jesus... 

not the portrait or even the caricature that we meet in the Gospels--

when Jesus cried out...

"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?''...

that was no rhetorical question uttered in a meek whisper...

by a man placid and serene, calmly resigned to his fate.

It was a full-bodied shout...

a roar...

a scream of agony, confusion, and anger.

He was dying--

in a most hideous and gruesome manner.

He was dying in intense physical pain.

And he would have experienced the full gamut of human emotions.

But, more than that...

according to the theologian, Peter Rollins... 

Jesus' cry from the cross reflects "a profoundly personal, painful existential atheism".

For Jesus, the experience of the cross--

the experience of utter, utter god-forsakenness...

the feeling that he had been profoundly and palpable abandoned by God--

must have challenged and called into question...

all of his prior experiences of God...

all of his deeply held conceptions about God.

And, if we're honest with ourselves... 

the cross calls into question all of our conceptions of God, too.

Rollins argues that the cross is a "profound offence to reason"...

and...

"a direct confrontation" against "all that we think religion and God is about".

Surely the cross shatters the notion that God is an interventionist God.

God doesn't intervene in the god-forsakenness of the religio-political system...

as it executes Jesus in the most horrific way.

God doesn't intervene in the god-forsakenness of those who experience natural disaster.

And God doesn't intervene in the god-forsakenness of our inhumanity towards each other--

in the way that we continually crucify those who are different...

and hence those whom we deem dangerous to our social and psychological status quo...

because of how they arrived here...

the way that they look...

what they believe...

or whom they love.

 

But the cross calls more than that into question.

It calls into question even those attributes of God that we hold most dear.

In the crucifixion of Jesus, we're confronted with the disturbing suggestion-- 

a suggestion that's contrary to so much of our theology and our personal piety-- 

we're confronted with the seemingly blasphemous suggestion that God is not ever-present...

that God is not with us always;

and we're confronted with the possibility...

that the comforting assertion that we are never truly alone might not be true.

The cross--

as an experience of utter, utter god-forsakenness...

as an experience of profound, existential atheism--

the cross puts to death every false god that we have ever created and worshipped;

every false god that has been constructed and perpetrated by our religious traditions...

as some sort of emotional or spiritual crutch... 

or as a cosmic get-out-of-gaol-free card.

In the crucifixion of Jesus...

all of our assumptions and presumptions about God are crucified, too.

The cross calls everything about God into question.

And yet, Peter Rollins suggests: 

"When we experience the loss of our beliefs, when we experience the breakdown of our narratives, it's not there where we lose God, it's there where we stand side by side with Christ".

In a sense, the cross forces us to discover God anew...

but to discover--

in the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer--

that "the God who is with us is the God who forsakes us".

 

But our natural human tendency is to jump ahead... 

to get it all over with as quickly as possible--

like we do, so often, with our experiences of death and grief and loss and pain.

Our natural tendency is to begin the reconstruction...

before we have truly and fully completed the deconstruction;

to focus on the good... 

the possibilities for new life.

But we can't.

Loss and grief are never things that we can rush.

We only deal with them by embracing them--

by embracing the agony...

by embracing the disillusionment and despair...

by allowing ourselves to be swept up in, and consumed by, the god-forsakenness.

We can't experience new life... 

until we have embraced the death that precedes it.

We can't experience wholeness... 

until we have worked through our grief.

We can't begin to fathom who God might actually be...

until we have truly experienced-- 

and grieved--

the death of the God who has been.

We can't really appreciate Easter Day until we have fully lived Good Friday.

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