Love’s as hard as nails,
Love is nails:
Blunt, thick, hammered through
The medial nerves of One
Who, having made us, knew
The thing He had done,
Seeing (what all that is)
Our cross, and His. (C S Lewis)
St Mark’s Jesus is silent on the cross. All the way through the long and appalling hours he says nothing. That is, until the terrible cry of dereliction near the end,
Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani? My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
All my life I have found this portrayal of Jesus hugely comforting because Jesus dies, as many people do die, feeling forsaken by God and yet, at the same time, crying out to God. It is comforting because it is real and true within human experience and the author of the Gospel does not evade it. But most of all it is because God in Jesus on the cross has not shirked the final terror and horror of human life; the feeling that finally one has been abandoned by God. How many people over the centuries must have felt that?
There is a famous story that rabbis in Auschwitz once decided to put God on trial – and found him guilty. The Nobel Laureate writer, Elie Wiesel was there. He said, “It happened at night; there were just three people. At the end of the trial, they used the word chayav, rather than ‘guilty’. It means ‘He owes us something’.”
Then they went to pray.
These rabbis, living in a manmade hell, having found God guilty did not turn away from Him; did not say, “I can no longer believe in God.” Just like Jesus on the cross they kept communication open even though what they were going through was inexplicable in terms of what they had understood God to be.
What was it for Jesus to lose his sense of connection with God? We cannot know fully but part of it must have been to lose his sense of identity. For someone who was “One with the Father” there was no Jesus without the Father, and for Christians there is no me without the relationship with God. I am only a person in relationship with others and I never knew who I was until I knew myself in relationship with Jesus. Losing a sense of identity happens to all human beings at one time or another in their life, usually after a big change, and it can be a terrible experience. Who am I now? What has my life been about? Has it all been wasted?
On the cross everything Jesus had was stripped away, and that of course was the point of this horrific form of execution. You are nothing, no one, it was intended to say. Crucified here on a rubbish dump, naked physically, your stress and emotions, your distraught mental state revealed to the world. You are nothing. No wonder Jesus identified himself with Psalm 22.
But I am a worm and not human:
Scorned by others and despised by the people.
This week, every week in the news, we hear of people living through terrible ordeals, their own crucifixions. Where is God, we cry, in all this? The answer is, he is there on the cross, in the midst of the chaos, despair and dereliction, a God who cannot escape, who does not want to escape, the cry of his people. The God, Who, having made us, knew the thing he had done – the God who owes us something, and who has never shirked paying the price.