The last words of Jesus were My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
This is the first in a series for Before the ending of the day when I will consider each of the last words of Jesus on the cross and their meaning for our own contemplation of death and dying.
In Mark’s gospel 14:33-39 Jesus’s final words are full of fear and puzzled anger. He is dying terror-stricken and alone.
He might have saved others but he cannot save himself from the inevitable.What can a God-forsaken Christ say to us about dying?
She sat slumped in her chair. Her husband had died and all she could say was: why did he have to go and leave me? I had been with him often in his last months as his illness turned him into a husk, empty of his former vigour. He too was burdened with the same thought: how did we come to this? I can help her no more.
Dying is a leaving.A leaving of what we have cherished and desired. A letting-go of what has given us purpose. A descent into an unforeseen awareness of the limitations of body and mind. It is an abandoning.
What is there that an abandoned child of God can say to us?
We can get hint of what Jesus was going through when we return to the life-changing story of his baptism in Mark 1:4-11. The experience of Jesus on the cross was the opposite of his baptism day. There is no voice from heaven, no descending Spirit; there is no blessing from God. The closest relationship in his life is letting him down.
In what sense was Jesus feeling abandoned by his Father in heaven?
I suggest that he cries out:
As an abandoned man, derelict, friendless and terrified;
As an abandoned Jew, still in captivity, under the heel of Rome, god-fearing and god-questioning;
As a rabbi who still identifies with the repentant crowds whom he joined for their baptism by John the Baptist.
His cry is that of others he had met in his lifetime; the awkward leper, the demon-driven Gerasene and the unbelieving father of a child he could not control.
The torment of Christ is the torment of all who come to the final corner, their ending without consolation and wondering why.
Is there any help?
There might be for someone for whom he is the Son of God. The argument goes; there is nothing we have to face that our Lord has not encountered with us.
There might be for someone who believes that this is a scream that echoes within the God Head as God experiences uniquely an emptying of God’s own nature into the human condition.
There might be for someone who believes that Jesus is quoting Psalm 22 and is prepared to read it to the end seeing in it a reflection on the cross experience.
Will any of this help me when I am dying? I do not know. But I cannot pretend that faith in my Father in heaven gives me immunity from such an experience. If there is a preparation for this time of abandonment it is to pray for the grace to cry out to God even when I think he has gone beyond my reach.
So Before the ending of the day we may teach ourselves to pray:
Our Father in heaven,
far too silent for our desiring;
if the darkness of death
makes us scream in fear and defiance
absorb the little faith we have into the
depths of your being and grant us
at least a resting place – at the ending of our little day.