On the Cross, God is There.

April 5, 2020

Church of the Servant, Wilmington, NC

Palm Sunday – Year A
The Passion of our Lord according to Matthew



This Palm Sunday, as with every Palm Sunday, we hear the Passion story. This year, it’s from Matthew’s gospel. Instead of having it in our worshiping sanctuary and hearing it from many adult voices, we have a virtual Zoom version, told in the voices of our teens from Church of the Servant. I don’t know about you, but for me it holds even more meaning hearing it in their voices and knowing that they came together to do it for us as a worshiping community.

A couple of days before the taping of that Passion story, I got a text from Jesus’s mom. Well, not Mary, but Ellie’s mom, Emilia. She wanted to know what the proper pronunciation for “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani” was – which obviously, I struggle with myself. I found what I thought was a reliable recording and sent it to her. The point is that, Ellie wanted to get it just right. So too, when we all gathered on Friday afternoon with our Zoom time together to make the recording, we all wanted to get it just right.

After one run-through rehearsal, we then did our first live recording. As you might imagine, we had a couple of technology hiccups, not to mention an unscripted appearance by the Centurion’s dad.Needless to say, after that take, we had one final shoot and we got it done. That’s what was provided for you today. And as for the “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani,” Ellie, you got it just right and we appreciate it.

That phrase, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” holds so much in it within this Passion story. For many through the years and centuries, we’ve seen it as a moment of weakness. A sign of Jesus’ true humanity. A time of doubt, perhaps, as to whether God was with him on that cross. Perhaps that Jesus’ humanity was showing more fully. I think some of that comes because we’re unfamiliar with the Hebrew context of Psalms in their world and in their religious life.

In truth, when the first line of a Psalm is said, it evokes the contents of the whole Psalm. Similar to, if you were to hear somebody say, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,” you could finish that line, maybe even finish the whole song. The meaning of it comes to you in full in just hearing that first line. So too, with this cry of “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It would evoke the entirety of Psalm 22.

A song of lament, yes, but also a song that holds within it God’s unending faithfulness to the people of Israel and to the promise of God’s unending faithfulness for the days and years and millennia ahead. Old Testament scholar and theologian Ellen Davis compares the Psalms of lament to Blues songs, “speaking in vividly metaphorical language that is intensely personal and yet not private.”[i] When the gospel writer uses this first line, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Like a Blues song, it would bring with it all the poetic language of the Psalm, conveying the challenge of suffering, even to the point of dehumanization and isolation.[ii]  But the Psalm doesn’t stay there. Davis contends that Psalm 22 “joins the protracted cry of agony with an equally extravagant anticipation of joy.”[iii] I don’t know about you, but most of the Blues songs I hear stay in the point of agony. This leaning in to the extravagant anticipation of joy brings to mind the African-American spirituals more than a Blues song.

From the beginning, God is found with those who suffer. God hears their cries.

The Israelites, the early Christians, and all those who have been oppressed through time.

Verse 24 of Psalm 22 says, “For God did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted. God did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to Him.

So too, for us now in this confusing time in our world amid the COVID-19 virus, an invisible enemy.

  • There are those of us who are alone.
  • There are those of us who are frightened or anxious.
  • There are those of us who are putting themselves in harm’s way every day in order to help others.

When we cry out to God in our distress, we can be assured that God can handle our lament. God understands and hears our suffering, but God also is there as a comforter to us. We can rest in the assurance that God is with us, even as we cry out in our distress.

On this Passion Sunday as we remember Jesus on the cross, while God is implicated in his suffering, God is also in the deliverance. While we know that the cross isn’t the end of the story, yet even on the cross, we know that God is there. Amen.

[i] Davis, Ellen F. 1992. “Exploding the Limits: Form and Function in Psalm 22.” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 17 (53): 93–105. Page 93. https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lsdah&AN=ATLA0000851304&site=ehost-live

[ii] Ibid. 98.

[iii] Ibid. 104.


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