A Good Friday Meditation
Psalm 22:1-15; Mark 15:33-41
March 23, 2016
In over 40 years as a pastor, I have been with a lot of people while they were dying, sometimes even at the moment of their passing. Christopher was 35 years old and dying of brain cancer. He had agreed with his parents that when hospice told them his last day had come, they were to invite me and the young adult group from church to be with them. He had been a runner in his healthier years and asked his parent to play a song called “He Finished the Race” when they could tell he would be breathing his last, which they did. Sad? Of course! But this was a most holy moment. What was in his heart came out. Sometimes what comes out as someone dies is angry cursing, but sometimes sweet peace comes out even in pain. It all depends on what was already in the heart.
Mark 15:33-41 reports what came out of Jesus’ mouth from his heart as he breathed his last. It had different effects on those who were there to witness it.
When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.” 36And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” 37Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. 38And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”
40There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.
The bystanders misunderstood and thought Jesus was calling the prophet Elijah to rescue him. They mocked his words as foolish.
The centurion recognized Jesus was God’s Son in the loud cry of his last breath.
I believe we know a lot of what Jesus said from the cross because the women witnessed it and reported it. They recognized that even their presence couldn’t relieve the acute abandonment Jesus felt in those three dark hours.
We typically think of Psalm 22 as prophesying the details of Jesus’ crucifixion. That certainly makes sense, but I think that by Jesus’ quoting Psalm 22 from the cross we can see deep into his heart. This is not the only Scripture or Psalm Jesus quoted during his ordeal. Jesus’ heart was so full of Scripture that he could draw on it for spiritual sustenance each step of the way, even in the three hour darkness of being abandoned by his Heavenly Father.
Psalm 22 gave Jesus an honest, intense way to respond to the pain of his abandonment. He didn’t have to pretty it up with pious words. He could draw on Scripture to express his most excruciating pain. He didn’t have to struggle to compose appropriate words. He could draw on the words of Scripture already in his heart.
That same Psalm also gave him a way to hang onto trusting his Heavenly Father in the face of feeling total abandonment and alienation. It gave him a way to appeal to his Heavenly Father in his moment of extremity.
Sometimes when we are at the extremities of our lives, feeling abandoned by friends, family and even God, we are afraid to express our emotions honestly. If we will fill our hearts with Scripture, especially the Psalms, we can receive from God honest words to express our pain and struggle to trust, knowing that since they come from Scripture, they are acceptable to God. I would also say that by filling our hearts with Scripture, we supply the Holy Spirit with raw material to bring into our minds and out of our mouths for every circumstance of life from deepest grief to most exalted joy.