Forsaken

Reflections on Faith, God & Isolation

A Lockdown Devotional for the start of a New Year:

Thursday 21st January 2021: #19 Jesus: forsaken

Click here for link to the video

Matthias Grunewald’s famous ‘Crucifixion’

Matthew 27:46: “About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ (meaning ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’).

All of the examples of isolation we have examined over the past weeks find their climax here. No pit, no prison, no wilderness, no social isolation, compares to the aloneness of Good Friday. How come?

If we were out for a walk together and you noticed a man on the other side of the street and told me “Do you know he’s having an affair with his work colleague?” it would mean very little to me, because I don’t know the man, and am not in any relationship with him or his wife. However, if you told me my spouse was being unfaithful it would hurt deeply. The degree to which we feel the pain of a broken relationship is proportional to the intimacy of the relationship in question.

No pit, no prison, no wilderness, no social isolation, compares to the aloneness of Good Friday. How come?

Similarly if I was to discover, after a couple of months, that a new friend I had made was actually scamming money off me, I would be annoyed at myself for being so over-trusting, but I would not grieve the loss of the friendship. However, if my life-long buddy with whom I had shared decades of joy and pain and who was my best man, and godfather to my children, was to betray my trust and steal from me, it would be a much longer-lasting wound. The degree to which we feel the pain of a broken relationship is proportional to the length of time we have known the person and the number of shared experiences we have enjoyed together.

Now, imagine a relationship that does not just go back decades, or even a lifetime, but stretches deep into eternity; and think of one that is more intimate than the most devoted married couple. Imagine one that was absolutely and completely perfect, where there was complete trust and endless self-giving love; where each member poured themselves out for the others in utter transparency and deep commitment, praising and glorifying each other. Now imagine what it would be like, even for a moment, for that relationship to be ruptured, and for one of the members to feel forsaken by another.

imagine a relationship that does not just go back decades, or even a lifetime, but stretches deep into eternity; and think of one that is more intimate than the most devoted married couple.

It stretches the human mind to fathom exactly what the death of Jesus, the incarnate Son, meant for the Trinity. It is sometimes easier to say what was not happening, and certainly there was no fragmenting or breaking apart of Father, Son and Spirit. But there was certainly a very real and very terrible feeling of isolation and forsaken-ness on the part of the Son . Something was broken in terms of the bonds that dmonstrated the perfect mutual relationship they enjoyed from eternity.

Sufficient to say that, on the cross, Christ experienced utter darkness, and he went through it alone; and all for us. The horrors of the crucifixion are centred not on the nails and the thorns and the physical agony- even though those of us, like me, who are of a squeamish disposition might recoil at that. Others have suffered longer and greater torture, and some misguided believers in some parts of the world still voluntarily go through temporary crucifixion to try to gain God’s favour.

such was the blackness of the cloud of sin, such was the crushing weight and burden of evil on his shoulders, that he could no longer feel the warmth of his loving Father’s presence

Nor were the horrors centred around the emotional abuse he suffered at the hands of his mockers; having to listen to their taunts, knowing he was innocent and that he was actually enduring this out of love for them.

No, the real horror of Good Friday was that his loving Father who had sent him on this Mission, who had declared his love for him in a voice from heaven, appeared to be absent. Of course he wasn’t absent, he was intimately involved; but at Jesus’s darkest hour, such was the blackness of the cloud of sin, such was the crushing weight and burden of evil on his shoulders, that he could no longer feel the warmth of his loving Father’s presence.   And so he cries out the lament of Psalm 22, and it is recorded for us as he would have shouted it in his mother tongue: “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Jesus himself walked the valley of complete desolation, forsaken by the Father for a season,  in order for us to be accepted and welcomed

During this Covid Pandemic we hear heart-rending stories of those who have died and it is rightly emphasised that the worst part is that they have had to die alone, without family and friends by their side.   Many, however, have testified to knowing the comforting presence of God in their solitude. And that is only possible because, on that first Good Friday, Jesus himself walked the valley of complete desolation, forsaken by the Father for a season, in order to be raised and glorified and, more amazingly, in order for us to be accepted and welcomed – and never forsaken.

I sometimes wonder: (Tune: Carrickfergus, Irish trad.)

I sometimes wonder what holy longing
Lay deep within the Triune heart;
Or what amazing, profound compassion,
Caused heaven’s bonds to break apart.
For You knew the bliss of heaven’s union,
The Father’s kiss, the Spirit’s breath;
Yet chose to forfeit such sweet communion,
For scoffer’s spit and lonely death.

I cannot fathom such depths of mercy,
Nor comprehend such heights of grace;
Through darkened windows I glimpse but dimly,
But soon in glory see face to face.
Then shall each broken heart be mended,
And every tear shall be wiped dry;
In you the journey begun and ended,
The answered hope of each heart’s cry.

In fragile vessels we guard this treasure,
With stammering tongues we give you praise;
Your strength perfected in all our weakness,
Your wisdom lightens our darkest days.
For you are God, and you are for us,
These bones shall live, these hearts shall sing
of all your glories, Divine Companion,
and all your love our Sovereign King.

© David J Montgomery, 2013

Lord Jesus, help me rest in the forgiveness that is mine through your sacrifice; help me revel in the love that is mine because of your being hated and killed; the acceptance that is mine through your being forsaken. I praise you that you endured the darkness alone, so that when I have to walk through the dark valley, you will be there by my side. Renew in my heart the awe and wonder of the cross and all it symbolises.  Remind me that if you went this far for me, then no distance  is too great for your love to travel, and no barrier is so large that your grace cannot surmount it.  Thank you, Lord, Amen.

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