Excerpted from the NC Council of Churches Lenten Guide, “Journey to Justice”
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. 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. All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads; “Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver—let him rescue the one in whom he delights!” Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother’s breast. On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God. Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help. Many bulls encircle me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me; they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death. For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me. My hands and feet have shriveled; I can count all my bones. They stare and gloat over me; they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots. But you, O Lord, do not be far away! O my help, come quickly to my aid! Deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the power of the dog! Save me from the mouth of the lion! From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me. I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you: You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! 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. From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him. The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord. May your hearts live forever! All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him. For dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations. To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him. Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.
“From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:45–46)
I imagine Jesus screaming out. The journey to Calvary has been long, exhausting, a constant battle between his will and his purpose. He had asked for this cup to be passed on, and here he was—fully immersed in the hate, sin and darkness of a world blinded by its desire of power. And on the ninth hour, he vocalizes a heart-breaking phrase: “Daddy, why did you leave me?” This is the voice of a child, looking into the silence for the voice that recently had said: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).
This time there is nothing, only the cries of people screaming at him to show his power, come down from the cross. In his desperation, Jesus goes back to what he knows, the words of lament that helped his people through the storms of life. His words are no longer his own, he wails with the voices of his ancestors, of every single person who cried out before him. In that cry, Jesus remembers his story and holds on to the promise. The promise gives Jesus freedom to lament. We must not move too quickly from cross to resurrection, from trouble to joy, forgetting that in lament we name the truth about who we are before God.
Trouble is all around us. Our world is flooded by daily news that beats down our spirit, feels like a whip to our backs, like vinegar in our thirsty mouths. Some days we cry out: “How long, Lord?” (Habakkuk 1:2). Our tears have run dry, our voices are hoarse from speaking out, and our bodies are tired from so much running. We long for the day of the Lord, for the resurrection, for the morning. For rest . . .
When there is no rest, lament allows us to sit in the mess. When we have no more words, lament gives us a reason to speak. We lean on the words of all those who sat by the rivers and wept, while still managing to sing a new song in the land of their affliction (Psalm 137). On Good Friday, we lament, knowing God hears our cries and in God’s time the veil will be broken and we will be free to rejoice once again.
Prayer: Lord Almighty, who knew us from our mother’s womb, who carried your people through the wilderness, who taught them to sing in exile, and who knows our struggles, we ask you to remain with us as we lament the state of this world and as we remember your own lament in the cross. That this Good Friday be a reminder to recognize our pain and put it in your hands. Lead us to trust you enough to ask questions and enable us to remember that, just as with our ancestors, you will deliver us. As we await your resurrection, assure us that nothing can separate us from your love that is in Jesus Christ our Lord. In the name of the crucified and risen Lord we pray. Amen.