For the complete Sunday readings click here.
On Palm Sunday we hear the story of Jesus’ Passion and death. The gospel is the longest of the year and it is easy to tune out the words because we’ve “heard it all before.” However, this is the central story of our faith – the most important story that we tell. Namely, God suffered, died, and rose from the dead all because he loves us so much that he can’t imagine life without us.
Toward the end of the gospel, Jesus says this simple phrase, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabchthani?” which is translated as “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I was always challenged by these words. On the one hand it was powerful that even Jesus Christ, Son of God, chosen one, the anointed, the one closest to God of anyone who has ever lived, felt abandoned by God. Sometimes we feel abandoned and Jesus knows exactly how that feels.
On the other hand, I wondered did Jesus really not understand what he was doing? It seems in the rest of the gospels, Jesus seems to understand and even predict his death, but when he came to it didn’t he understand God was with him in his suffering? I really struggled to accept this part of the story.
That is until someone pointed out a very important aspect of understanding this moment of Jesus’ suffering. The phrase “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” appears not only here is the gospel, but also as the first line of Psalm 22.
Jesus was quoting Psalm 22 while hanging on the cross.
As a practicing Jew, Jesus would know the psalms well and be able to quote them. The Jewish audience at his feet would know exactly the Psalm he was quoting and understand the entirety of his message.
See, Psalm 22 starts with this question about God abandoning the speaker and laments how God seems to not be answering the cry of the oppressed. But, about half way through Psalm 22 changes to be all about the hope one finds in God, even in the midst of the worst situations. Then the Psalm describes proclaiming the faithfulness of God, and finally end with the good news that “The generation to come will be told of the Lord, that they may proclaim to a people yet unborn the deliverance you have brought.” In other words, God is delivering us from the oppression of sin through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and our job is to tell the next generation all about it!
While hanging on the cross, suffering overwhelming physical pain, and preparing for his death, Jesus gives us one more teaching – When things look the absolute worst, God is still with us and will deliver us. Moments before his death, Jesus was pointing toward the hope of the resurrection. Jesus final verbal instruction before his death is that we must not be afraid to share this story and the good news that Jesus has conquered death forever.
Read Psalm 22 by clicking here.