Why Have You Forsaken Me? (Sunday March 14, 2021)
Mark 15: 29-36a; (Psalm 22)
Why Have You Forsaken Me?
March 15, 2020. “Church canceled due to COVID-19 pandemic.” It was a little notification that I put into the website that tracks our attendance, and a few other things, as a way of trying to explain the sudden zero for in person attendance as we closed down. We shut down for 14 days; remember that? 14 days. “14 days to flatten the curve.” One year ago, tomorrow.
One year ago was the week that I will always remember. It started of course with one player on the Utah Jazz testing positive for COVID-19. As a sports fan I remember watching SportsCenter that night and seeing the players between the thunder and the jazz getting to the court, and then trying to figure out what was going on. And then they had to go back to lock rooms, and a few minutes later the game was canceled. Within a couple of days the NCAA tournament, March Madness, had been canceled. A couple days after that, the Spring Hill school district announced that they were not coming back from Spring Break.
Finally, we shut down here. Then everything changed. Everything changed. And it hasn’t fully unchanged. We are now, of course, still going in this pandemic. We’re still wearing masks, we still have tape on the pews, many of you are still watching at home. This pandemic has gripped us, and it doesn’t seem to want to let go.
I don’t know about you, but in my life there’s never been a year that has made me identify more with Jesus saying this line than this year. There has never been a year with more moments where I have wanted to look up at the sky and shout “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Maybe there have been those moments for you throughout this year. It certainly feels like collectively, as a country, we all want to turn and look at the sky and scream “my God, my God, why have you forsaken us?” for any of a number reasons. I mean it is a year that led to the Bishop calling upon us to pray for a nation in crisis for 100 days.
It felt to me like COVID was this boa constrictor that was squeezing in, confining, and confining, and confining; getting closer, and closer, and closer. It started as this thing in China, and then in Italy, and then in the UK, and then in New York and San Francisco, and then it shows up in Kansas, I think it was Wichita. That was one week before we shut down for 14 days. Then it showed up in Johnson County. It got closer and closer and closer; at least it felt that way. I actually live in one of the apartments across the street from the nursing home that Betty is in, and I remember seeing the news that someone inside that nursing home had tested positive for COVID-19. Now obviously they never told us who, there were quite a few in the nursing home who tested positive for COVID-19, but I remember distinctly during those few weeks that followed that walking outside the apartment door to help my dog do her stuff, and looking across the street and not feeling safe in my yard anymore. Wondering if COVID-19 could go through the chimney. Feeling vulnerable, because it wasn’t “over there” anymore. It had closed in. I remember not liking that feeling. One of those moments where I was wanting to scream this line.
I remember getting notification that someone who is a member of Bucyrus had tested positive for COVID-19. I remember getting notifications that some of you here in Spring Hill had become close contacts with someone who had tested positive with COVID-19 and were forced to quarantine. As far as I know none of you had tested positive before this week, but now even that has happened. It gets closer, and closer, and closer. And then in January it hit full force when we got an email and a phone call from Caleb’s school that Caleb was a close contact. He ultimately tested negative in time and we didn’t miss any beats here at church, but for half a week while we were waiting on the test, my family was in quarantine. Closer and closer. And every time it closed in was another prayer wondering why God had forsaken me.
And deaths have gone this way too. Fortunately we haven’t even gotten to that final moment, we haven’t lost anyone in either church; knock on wood. But it does seem to be that way. The first I really remember was Italy; Italy having problems in their ICUs, their hospitals being overrun. England having their issues with their national health service. And then hearing that New York has refrigerator trucks being brought up because the morgues in the hospitals were overflowing. I remember hearing that President Trump had dispatched US Navy hospital ships to float in the harbor of Los Angeles and New York to take non-Covid patients so that the hospitals in the cities could be focusing only on Covid, because it was getting that bad. but that’s New York, and LA, and Italy.
But of course it didn’t take long to get into my sphere. I remember the first Facebook friend notification that their parent had passed away. It was a colleague. And over the last seven or eight months it keeps coming back up. There are many clergy in the Great Plains, in your conference, who’ve lost parents or spouses. Every one of them hits me as if it were one of you. The latest one was a very good friend of mine who lost her father just I think two weeks ago. It felt suffocating. And if it feels like we need to shout out “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” it’s good to remember how often those words have been on the lips of Godly people, or even Jesus himself, throughout the years.
Because Jesus doesn’t pull this line from nothing. Jesus is actually quoting Scripture, did you know that? This line, famous for being from the cross, is actually from the Psalms. It’s Psalm 22, attributed in the Psalms to David. The first line: “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.” Have you ever prayed that? Have you prayed that this year? “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me? I’ve been praying for a year for this to go away. You won’t answer my prayer.”
David, in Psalm 22, sounds really familiar to me. I have heard it on the lips of Christians; I have heard it on the lips of pastors, maybe even you have heard it on your own lips. I don’t know. David goes on to say in verse four, “Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame. But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people.” I hear that prayer! “What am I doing wrong God? I read the Scriptures. I see the healing that you did in the prophets. And yet when I pray, my prayers aren’t answered. Why have you forsaken me?”
Sometimes I think it could be helpful to know, good actually, that that’s an incredibly common prayer. And it’s an incredibly common feeling to have. Even among the faithful. Like I said, Psalm 22 is attributed to the lips of David, one of the most Godly people in all scripture. Psalm 22 is therefore quoted by Jesus. And I highly doubt that he quoted the first line of the Psalm and just stopped. My guess is maybe that’s all he could physically get out of his mouth, but that he is praying this entire prayer. Part of the reason for that is there some interesting similarities with what he is seeing at the foot of the cross. Verse seven, “All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads.” What is going on in front of Jesus? Verse 16 in the New Living Translation, “They have pierced my hands and feet.” Verse 18, “They divide my garments among themselves and throw dice for my clothing.” I doubt Jesus stopped at the first line because I think it may have been the poignant similarities that brought the psalm to mind as he looked down from the cross and saw the activities of the mob going on around him.
Personally, I feel like it can be helpful to remember that strong, Godly people, in this case the human side of Jesus himself, have these thoughts. We have these feelings within us from time to time, we pray these prayers. But even as we remember that they have those thoughts and they pray those prayers, we have to also remember that there is a form to this prayer that I can recognize. It begins “why have you forsaken me?” It begins by yelling at God about how God delivered him, now what about me? It begins with “you are God; awesome, and powerful, and wonderful. And I am,” like it says in Psalm 22, “a worm.” But the prayers don’t end there. They continue. And they always arrive at a place of “Yes, you are God, enthroned in the Heavens. And I am nothing here on earth. Yet, still God, I need you. Come to me.” We tend to get to that place, whether we intend to get there or whether it is the Spirit who comes in and leads us there, we always get to “you delivered them, and I need you to deliver me right now.” It always comes back to that plea, and it is always answered. Verse 24, “For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.”
These prayers are as old as time. They always begin with “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” But they end with recognition that God hasn’t forsaken me. They begin these cries for help, and end with God having rushed in to hug and comfort or mourn with the person. And so it is with us. I don’t think it is coincidence that whoever put together the book of Psalms thought that the next one should be “the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want...yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” The truth is that God has never forsaken you. God hadn’t forsaken Jesus. God hadn’t forsaken David. And God has not forsaken you; even on day 365 of “14 days to flatten the curve.”
If I can spoil the story; in three days Easter comes. That’s the reality. Sunday always comes. Friday never is the end. And it doesn’t matter how bad Friday feels, it doesn’t matter how much you feel like God has forsaken you on Friday; Sunday will always come. Because God hasn’t forsaken you, and Friday never gets the last word. And I know it feels like Friday right now. I know it feels like the part of Friday where the sun refused to shine for three hours, and there were massive earthquakes shaking the ground so much that the centurion in Mark looks up and says “surely, you must be the Son of God!” I know it feels that way right now; like you’re suffocating and Covid is closing in. But it’s just Friday. Sunday’s coming. And the tomb will be empty. That’s what brings us hope, that’s the good news. Nothing else matters. Amen.