April 2, 2021

Easter is just a couple days away–full of light and candy and people dressed in their Easter best. But we’re not there yet. 

Before the brightest day in human history, there was the darkest. 

We can’t skip to the end of the story, because what Jesus accomplished on Easter morning is meaningless apart from his suffering upon the bloody cross on Good Friday. So, for this one day, we solemnly reflect on the sacrifice that makes the celebration possible.

For the past six weeks, believers around the world have observed a season of Lent: a season in which we remember and repent of all the reasons Christ came into this world to die: all the sins and things that separated us from God. That’s part of the story: our brokenness, our apparently permanent separation from the One who created us. But when God was born as a man, he changed everything. Humbling himself, God took on our sorrows and weaknesses, enduring hunger and thirst and temptation.

And finally, on Good Friday, almost two thousand years ago, the Son of God who extended mercy to the broken and preached daily with gentleness and power was betrayed, seized, and beaten. The one who calmed storms and raised the dead to life surrendered without a fight, even pausing to heal his aggressors. And when he had been abandoned by his closest friends and followers, he was sentenced to death on a cross–the most painful death possible.

All four writers of the Gospels describe this day, but to me, the most powerful account of Good Friday comes from the Old Testament prophecy in Psalm 22. Almost a thousand years before Jesus was born, this psalmist captures Jesus’ agony at calvary:

All who see me mock me;
    they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
“He trusts in the Lord,” they say,
    “let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
    since he delights in him.”

I am poured out like water,
    and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
    it has melted within me.

Dogs surround me,
    a pack of villains encircles me;
    they pierce my hands and my feet.
All my bones are on display;
    people stare and gloat over me.
They divide my clothes among them
    and cast lots for my garment.
But you, Lord, do not be far from me.

What is amazing to me about this Psalm is the imagery we see fulfilled. 

Jesus is mocked, insulted, surrounded. This poem exactly describes the agony of crucifixion–invented centuries after the Psalm was written. Jesus is pierced in his hands and feet, naked, his bones pulled slowly out of joint from the weight of his hanging body.

And in his final moments, Jesus cries out the words from this same Psalm: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

In all honesty, this looks more like a failure than a mission accomplished. Even his disciples are scattered and hopeless as their leader suffers alone, forsaken.

And in this darkest moment, Jesus, who knew the scriptures from his childhood, made this cry his own. But Jesus, even as he hung on the cross, would have known the truth that is proclaimed later in the Psalm:

“He has NOT hidden his face from him
    but has listened to his cry for help.”

You see, even in Jesus’ darkest moments, he was never forsaken by God the Father. Even when failure looked imminent and suffering felt endless, even when the weight of our sins crushed down upon him, God was not far from him.

Psalm 22 is my favorite recounting of this darkest day because it begins with that heart-wrenching cry of abandonment, but it doesn’t end there. It is the story of a journey from feelings of abandonment to faith in the truth that God does not abandon us. He does not turn his back on those he loves.

And that is the promise we can hold onto today. Though our hearts might break, and we might cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” we can know that God is relentless in his pursuit of us–to the point of humbling himself and enduring the agony of death on a cross in order to bring us near.

Psalm 22, and the story of Good Friday, end with this certainty:

All the ends of the earth
    will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
    will bow down before him,
for dominion belongs to the Lord
    and he rules over the nations.

    …Future generations will be told about the Lord.
They will proclaim his righteousness,
    declaring to a people yet unborn:
    He has done it!

It is finished. Our savior declared with those words that we will never be forsaken. Even on this darkest of days, even in the midst of Jesus’ agony, even when we feel completely alone, God never ever abandons those he loves.

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