Midweek reflection by Rev. Ruth Lemmen:
Last week, our Lenten small group practiced lectio divina with Matthew’s account of the crucifixion. Some of the details that Matthew includes are three hours of darkness, Jesus crying out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”, Jesus giving up his spirit, the curtain of the temple tearing into two, an earthquake with rocks splitting, and the bodies of holy people coming back to life. The centurion and others guarding Jesus were terrified. Many women who followed Jesus were watching from a distance.
As I imagined it, it seems like a scene from a horror movie. A dark sky in the middle of the day. Jesus’ anguished cries. The massive curtain that protected the holiest of holies, the place where Jews believed God dwelled, torn in half. The ground shaking beneath everyone’s feet. It must have been a disorienting, terrifying day.
And yet, in the middle of the terror, there is profound hope for us. Jesus hung on the cross and cried out the first line of Psalm 22: “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In pain and agony from bearing the sin of the world, Jesus lamented that this world is not the way it is supposed to be. He was hurt, betrayed, lonely, humiliated, abandoned.
The world is still not the way it is supposed to be. We also face hurt, betrayal, loneliness, humiliation, and abandonment. And despite the ongoing effects of sin in the world, we do not suffer alone. Hebrews 4 explains that Jesus is able to empathize with our weaknesses because he has been tempted in every way, just as we are. Jesus knows the agony of physical pain. Jesus knows the heartbreak of betrayal by a close friend. Jesus knows the loneliness of being deserted by his community, even those who had promised to stay with him no matter what. Jesus knows the humiliation of being bullied and mocked. Jesus knows the injustice of an unfair trial and systems that worked against him. Jesus knows the terror of feeling abandoned by God.
Because Jesus suffered on our behalf, we are not left alone in our suffering. Even when we feel that God has forgotten us, Jesus has experienced that pain. In this Holy Week, we remember Jesus suffering. We sit with it, even as we want to skip ahead to the joy of Sunday. I think sitting with the pain is a spiritual practice, even if we aren’t in particular pain right now. Sitting in the pain of Holy Week strengthens our spiritual muscles to wait in the pain with others who are suffering and to face our own pain honestly. We know that Jesus’ death is not the end of the story, and even Matthew drops a hint that death is not the end with the mention of dead people who came back to life. We live in a time of already-and-not-yet, when we will face pain and suffering, and we know that we do not face it alone, because Jesus hung on the cross and cried out “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”