“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me?” [Psalm 22:1a] These are the words of the great King David, known as the author of so many of the Psalms. David experienced periods of extreme desolation and fear; times when he surely felt that God had abandoned him, even such distress that he brought upon himself these feelings of separation from God due to his own poor, misdirected choices.
Few of us go through life without some periods of spiritual desolation, desperate for glimmers of hope – some tiny bit of confirmation of God’s presence – no place to go except to our knees.
Because of our humanness, we need these times of desolation to remind us of our dependence on God, these times that force us to our knees and drive us to seek a renewed awareness of God’s presence. These are periods of our greatest suffering and sense of abandonment; separation from God is our greatest fear – a fear much greater than that of our earthly death.
Jesus demonstrates this suffering for us from the cross. The writers of Matthew and Mark’s Gospels put these same words from Psalm 22 in Jesus’ mouth as he dies on the cross. But, we know (because we can smell the lilies being stored in the room across the hall) that Jesus will rise from his earthly grave and reign victorious over suffering and death; Jesus will confirm beyond all earthly doubt that God does not abandon us; we are not to fear death; we cannot be separated from God.
At the same time, if we rationalize away our suffering; if we tamp down our desperate feelings of desolation and abandonment; if we gloss over the reality of death, how can we ever truly experience this ecstasy of victory in the assurance of God’s everlasting presence in the good times and the bad times.
Our current culture encourages us to minimize the reality of our earthly death. We tippy-toe through carpeted halls and whisper about our loved one who “passed.” Passed what? Are we afraid to say he “died?” Funeral home chapels offer anterooms where family members are secluded and shuttered from the others in attendance at funerals. Is grieving something of which we are to be ashamed – not to be shared with others who care?
Similarly, many avoid attending Good Friday services. We just don’t want to talk about death; we’d rather skip Good Friday and Holy Saturday and get on with the glorious celebration of Easter. But, how can we stand at the cross and shout Alleluia from the depths of our souls without experiencing the abandonment of Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Where was God on Holy Saturday?
How many times have the worst experiences of our lives been converted to the very best experiences? These three days are the ultimate assurance of life’s triumph over death – the ultimate conversion of Evil into Good; there is no evil that is not overcome by the God’s good.
In her book Faithful Living Faithful Dying, Cynthia Cohen alerts us to the gift of life; bringing home the point that death reminds us that life is not self-created or self-sufficient. Dying faithfully requires living faithfully – living in the full acknowledgment that death is part of life.
This journey with Christ into death is our journey into the life of God. It is on Good Friday that we hear Jesus’ last words as recorded by John, “It is finished.” These are not words of finality and defeat; these are words of perfection and completion; these are words of triumph. Jesus has completed with perfection the task given to him by the Father. Jesus Christ, his earthly life “passing away,” confirms the perfection of our journey into the Kingdom of God where we will never again feel forsaken or abandoned. Assured of the promise of everlasting life, we do not fear our earthly death.
With Jesus Christ as our example, we live faithfully; we die faithfully. On Good Friday, God’s promise was perfected. We are here to acknowledge Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins; we are here to celebrate the perfection of Jesus’ mission in the world – the task given him by the Father. It is finished.