On Sunday, after church, I came home and I went to check the news on my computer. I pulled up CNN’s webpage and was confronted with these words, “Gunman opens fire at Jewish center.”
And for a moment, I could barely breathe. Surely it was no accident that on the first day of the holiest week for Christians, and the day before the beginning of the holiest week for Jews, this man opens fire on a Jewish community. It reeked of religious violence. And it made me think of this night. This night, when another Jew was put to death in the name of religion. When Jesus was killed because of the grace-filled, freely forgiving God that he embodied and proclaimed.
But it didn’t just remind me of the violence done to Jesus tonight, it reminded me of the history of violence done to other Jews on this night. “(T)oday has long been one of the most frightening days of the year (for Jewish people). In parts of eastern Europe (just) during the last century, Jews knew better than to leave their homes on Good Friday, when Christians stoked up by the passion narrative they had just heard in church poured out into the streets to do as much damage as possible in the Jewish part of town.”
Throughout history, Christians have been trying to avenge Christ’s death. And the irony is thick. Because Jesus’ gospel of loving your enemies and doing good to those who hate you has been twisted into a 2000 year nightmare of racism and revenge. And you can imagine those Jews turning to the very same Jewish scripture that Jesus turned to when he died on the cross – Psalm 22…
Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani. My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?
As Christians, we believe, we trust that Jesus reveals to us God. When we’ve seen Jesus, we’ve seen God. So what does tonight say about God? What could it mean when God in Jesus cries out the most human prayer we can utter – My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” What could it mean for God to feel forsaken, abandoned by God?
And the only way I can make sense of it is, is there any greater despair, any greater suffering than to feel abandoned by God?
Is there anything lower than that? When we’ve lost our sense of value. When feel like we have no worth. That is when we’ve hit rock bottom. And if God has forsaken you, God the one who made you in love, for love, and by love, if you feel forsaken by that God, then there is no further you can go. Than to feel that the one who brought you into being has forsaken you. And so it is like Jesus has hit rock bottom.
One of my friends is a pastor at a church, and she has a member who is struggling with alcohol addiction. And she said this to me. “He hasn’t hit rock bottom yet.” So often we know that before things can change in someone’s life, things actually have to get worse. Sometimes, we have to hit rock bottom. And on the cross, Jesus – God – hits rock bottom. Because is there anything more terrify and awful than God feeling forsaken by God?
But it is at that point. At the lowest of the low, at rock bottom, when things can finally start to change.
For so long, God has been viewed as the sin counter. The one keeping track of all of your wrongs. And Jesus comes along and he just starts forgiving people’s sin. Freely. And it upset people. They said, “You can’t do that.” And Jesus said, “Watch me.” And as Jesus continued to show a loving, grace-filled God, the angrier and angrier people got and they killed him. And so on the cross, we see a God who would rather die than be the sin counter anymore (Nadia Bolz-Weber). God doesn’t want to count sin, God wants to give love.
So what could it mean for God to feel forsaken by God? When given a choice between siding with humanity and siding with God’s own self…God sides with humanity! God comes to us on a cross to transform the world with love from the inside out. From inside the world. Not outside the world.
To have a God on a cross. To have a dead God is not to have any angry God who needs payment for your sins. It is to have a God who is so in love with this world that God would leave God’s throne and dive into the deepest and darkest parts of humanity, so as to be there with us. At Christmas, we claim Jesus as Emmanuel, which means “God with us.” And never is God with us more than on the cross.
To have a God that dies on the cross is to have a suffering God. Not a God who sits in the clouds but a God who sits beside you in the pain clinic. An all-vulnerable God who enters into the lawyer’s office with you. A God who stands alongside you when you are bullied at school. A God who holds you when the money runs out. A God who dies alongside Jews killed by Christians. In the rock bottom suffering of the world. That is where God will meet us. Not when we are at our best but when we are at our worst. God will come to find us.
When the soldiers of the Roman rulers nailed him to a cross, the wails of God filled the universe. Together God and Jesus entered into the watery depths of chaos. Together they bore the pain of the world. This is our greatest hope on the darkest day.
 Daniel Erlander, Manna and Mercy, pg. 56.