Church of England Diocese of Leicester Burbage with Aston Flamville

The seven last words of Jesus

7 Apr 2020, 6 p.m.

Last Words

4. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34

Many years ago, I went to the cinema on Good Friday, which is something I had never done before. One must point out, before you start writing to the bishop about my suitability for ordained ministry, that I went out after my divine obligations that day. The reason? Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ had just been released, along with all the reviews and comments about its bias and inaccuracy, and what better day to see it than on that Friday. Films often have the power to move you emotionally, spiritually even, and that was one motion picture which hit every button. The pain and anguish of Christ is made very clear in that film, through the magnificent acting and the extreme make-up. Sometimes I feel that our Western world hides us from the unpalatable truth behind the crucifixion, through its portrayal in art and Biblical commentaries, but we need to emerge from our comfortable environment and meditate on what the crucifixion involved in a physical way.

After having seen the suffering leading up to, and on the cross, you do get a sense of Christ’s grim situation. There is Christ, two arms nailed to a horizontal beam, surrounded by a hostile gathering, full of Roman soldiers and those connected with the Temple authorities. There are of course his devoted followers, including Mary his mother, at the foot of the cross. You get a very real sense of apparent abandonment, especially from God. Where is his Father in the midst of anguish? This thought may have passed through the minds of his followers. What is the point?

Such questions are characteristically human. I am sure that we are having thoughts like this during the period of ‘lockdown’ because of this virus. To feel abandoned in a time of need is a very dark place to find yourself. And yet, there is a light shining here if we only take the time to seek it out. By saying these words, Jesus makes clear to everyone his human nature. “He came down to earth from heaven” is the line from a well-known Christmas carol, which expresses Jesus as both fully human and fully divine. Jesus is showing us in this moment, on the cross, the ‘fullness’ of his humanity, if I can use that description. Jesus, just like you and me, knows what it is like to feel abandoned, to feel pain, to feel the bleakness that we can all experience from time to time. Isn’t that in itself a comforting thought?

In his humanity and with a sense of abandonment, Jesus cries out with “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”. He uses a line from Holy Scripture, Psalm 22, a piece of writing that speaks of anguish, yes, but also stresses the hope of resurrection and salvation. Christ drew on these words as a form of lament, but may also have drawn comfort from the rest of the text, which speaks of God’s help for all those in need.

This moment in the gospel, though painful and moving, offers us a beacon. We may feel God is absent from time to time, and it is absolutely fine to cry out in pain, and to express our anxiety and even anger. However, God does walk with us in the bad and good times, even if we are not aware of it. And in our dark moments, we can turn to Scripture for comfort and to remind ourselves of the goodness of God.

A final thought …. do remember that a narrative is more than a single word, or sentence, and that you must carry on reading to find out what happens next. If you continue with the gospel, we learn that Christ’s death was not in vain and that he was resurrected from the dead. Keep that knowledge in your heart.

Nick Baker