“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” - 03-19-2023 - Rev. Tony Romaine
Does it not bring you almost to tears, this phrase? There is certainly no more harrowing phrase that Jesus spoke than this one. That our Savior, the absolute closest being we have ever walked with on earth to our God, indeed God incarnate, would utter such a thing.
There is a story about Martin Luther, the great Protestant theologian, that Martin Luther actually set out to study this profound cry of Jesus. He studied for a long time, in solitude, without food, and in deep meditation. And when at last he rose from his chair exasperated, he said, “God forsaking God; who can understand that?” Friends, truly, “God forsaking God” is a concept so tragic and mysterious, how can we ever hope to fully understand?
Yet, I think we paint over the pain and agony that Christ was experiencing in order to theologically explain what is going on at this moment with Christ upon the Cross, when what we really need to do is to be able to sit with Christ in this moment when He obviously felt completely abandoned and, in His own word, forsaken. To understand the depth that one must feel in the pit of their being in order to cry out to their Father, their Mother, their God, their everything and ask why they have been forsaken is difficult. And within myself I go in two directions to speak about this; one is that our Savior would partake of the Cross, and the other is why. Taking us in these directions I think will help us come closer, mind you I said closer because we will never be able to completely understand, to knowing this phrase our Messiah spoke so emphatically.
First then is that our Savior would partake of the Cross. We have already spent time throughout this sermon series talking about the sacrifice that Christ made in order to go to the Cross, but here, today, because of this phrase that is a cry from our Jesus, we need to unwrap another layer and dig deeper into Jesus going to the Cross.
What journey would you ever begin if you knew that at the end it led to death? You would not want to leave your house or the safety of wherever you may be if you knew that every step and every moment was leading up to the fulfillment of a mission which ended in death. And yet, Jesus understood that this was the culmination of his mission. Time and again, throughout the Gospels Jesus tells people to not share his miracles with others or to not spread the message quite yet, because of reasons like: his time had not yet come, or all would be revealed when it was time, or other reasons that pass our human understanding about the Messiah and what his reign would mean.
And while theologians and scholars debate about why Jesus did not want His Godliness to be shared or spread, what we come to know is that what happens upon the Cross is the reason. Jesus knew that this was the end, in fact, time and again he told the disciples that He had to die and be resurrected. To which they sluffed him off, or would get scared that their rabbi and Messiah was going to die, forgetting all the while the resurrective part of what Jesus said.
But before we go too much farther, we should take a moment to pause and understand ancient Judaic times, briefly. Let us remember that the people who were seeing these miracles, hearing Jesus teach, waiting for a Messiah, thinking of what death meant, they are all doing so through a Jewish lens. On the one hand then, they are awaiting a worldly Messiah to come and vanquish the Romans and re-place Jerusalem on the map as the center of the world, as a physical land holding presence, restoring the Israelite people as the chosen ones they were promised to be. Moreover, that the Messiah would be God, and was going to upend everything they knew, would conquer death, and do all the things Jesus did.
In this manner, this cry that Jesus lets out is a cry perhaps about these very people that Jesus came to save, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” containing just as much about why God would let these people forsake him, as why God would send Him for this purpose, for the ancient people indeed forsook Jesus.
They doubted who He was, they did not believe the miracles even when they witnessed them for themselves, they would not believe Jesus when he told them what was to happen, and they did not honor where Jesus came from or what his true purpose was, His lineage, or His divinity, and even His humanity.
But in this forsakenness, we must not judge the ancient peoples too harshly, for we too forsake Christ, and this takes us to our second point for this morning; why Jesus would go to the Cross for us and still does. The first step in confession is acknowledging that we have something to confess, and when it comes to Jesus, we all have something to confess. We have all sinned in one way or another, and no matter if your sin is major or minor, it is sin and in need of cleansing.
But we often sequester sins to the major mistakes or crimes or mishaps of our life, when the way we forsake Jesus is by submitting Him to death by a thousand papercuts. In other words, we forsake Jesus in each little thing we do that is not following his teachings, his way, his truth, his ministry. Every time we harbor hate for an enemy, we forsake Christ again. Every time we hold back the helping hand because we think people should be able to do things on their own, should help themselves, or are just abusing the system, we forsake Christ again. Each time we look with disdain at the homeless and the widow, the prostitute, and the drug addict, we forsake Christ again.
Each time we judge one another, gossip about one another, spread lies about one another, we forsake Christ again. Each time we fail to listen because we have hardened hearts or allow those with evil intentions to do our thinking and acting for us, we forsake Christ again. And on and on the list goes, which can be summed up in this line: every time we do something that is the opposite of loving our neighbor as we were loved, as Christ went to the Cross for us, as our Savior was forsaken for us, every time, EVERY TIME, we do that…we forsake Christ again and he dies once more in agony and pain a thousand times over, generation after generation, continuing to cry out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
So why would Jesus go to the Cross and be forsaken and do all of this for us? Because He loves us. And instead of hiding away in His carpentry shop, or never coming into the world, or never being among us; our God entered into our existence to the point of death and forsakenness upon the Cross because we are loved.
People, today is as convicting as it gets, this cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” should be an awakening to us that our God who gave everything because of a love which is beyond our understanding is Christ calling out to us and to God all at the same time. Now, I do not know about you, but this brings me to the edge of tears, because of the cost of my sins upon the Cross. But it also makes me want to try even more to counter that cry and offer my life over to Christ. To confess, repent, re-turn, re-learn, and go out in love.
Because as harrowing as this cry is, as confusing and confounding of a theological quagmire is the question of God forsaking God, as guilt-laden and shame filled we may feel, especially in this season of Lent, especially when pondering the suffering of our Savior; despite all of this, there is hope and love in this message; us! Christ did this for us…to save us…because He loves us! And our world needs us as those saved, forgiven, freed, to love as Christ loved.
So, let us this day take this cry of Jesus, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” and not waste any opportunity to hold sacred this sacrifice as we change our world from one of forsakenness into one of forgiveness, for-each-other-ness, for the love of God-ness; Christ make it so, Amen!
“Here is your son…here is your mother” – 03-12-2023 – Rev. Tony Romaine
Of all the words that Christ utters at the end of his life on the Cross, these are perhaps the ones most often forgotten. And to be completely honest with you all, are the most difficult to unpack and explain in a sermon. But we are going to walk through this, because Christ is actually using these few last utterances, these third words today to remind us of a great responsibility and need.
The difficulty laid before us today can be assuaged partly if we look first at the humanity that these words convey. Christ in all the pain and agony of dying a terrible death, sees his mother there weeping and wants to take care of her. I cannot even begin to imagine the thoughts that Mary must have been experiencing in that moment. To see her son who just a few decades earlier had been born in such majesty and splendor, there hanging on the cross could only bring unspeakable pain. Her son who had changed her life forever from one of shame and public disgrace to one of marvel and magnificence, now hanging on a cross he did nothing to deserve, abandoned by the very people He came to save, and she could do nothing. Yet, even this pain was foretold by Simeon in the temple when the baby Jesus was presented, in Luke 2:34-35, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
How could Mary possibly have known that Simeon’s prophecy would be so true? In her motherly joy with her husband Joseph with her there, presenting Jesus in the temple, to receive this news which she herself had some foreknowledge of, but only what the angels had told her; how could she possibly know that this was the end of the pathway set before Jesus. Everything Mary had learned or grew to learn about her son, our Savior Jesus, would have led her to believe that as the Messiah he would do great things just like were foretold by prophets of old. And as the angels proclaimed His glory at His birth and Mary herself magnified in praise, Jesus would indeed grow to become the light which shone upon our darkness.
But that darkness had now overtaken the human light that was Jesus and Mary was left to mourn at the foot of the cross her son Jesus. As a parent, I struggle to even try to empathize with what she would be experiencing, and frankly, the thoughts of that very thing happening keep me up at night. Those who have lost children know the pain Mary felt in this moment and know that it never leaves you. And Jesus upon the Cross can see and feel and know everything his mother is going through and in a moment of humanity looks at his Mom and says to her, “Woman, here is your son,” as he looks to the disciple John and says to him, “Here is your mother.” The humanity of that moment is one that in the wise words of James Stalker presents us with this part of Jesus’ life where we get to see the “blending of the majestic and the lowly.” Jesus being born in a manger, while angels break forth in song from heaven above, Jesus asleep in a boat while storms toss and rage only to awake and still everything, Jesus crying at the death of Lazarus, while in the next moment raising him from death; fully human and fully divine, and so it was to his dying day.
But why these third words, "Here is your son…here is your mother…"are so important takes us also from a very emotional place to a very practical place, and the discussion that I hope will open our eyes to the fulfillment of part of Jesus’ ministry. For Jesus Himself chose this moment to teach us once more an important lesson; care for the widows, care for the forgotten, care for family.
You heard me say earlier that Mary had a husband Joseph, but he is no longer around at the time of Jesus’ death. No one really knows what happens to Joseph, but after we hear mention of him at the Passover feast celebration when Jesus was about twelve or so, we do not hear of him again. Not to mention, that whenever we hear of Mary, Joseph is not mentioned, and since this society was such a patriarchal one, certainly if Joseph were alive we would have known. This is all to say that at the time of Jesus’ death Mary was a widow.
Therefore, what Jesus is doing at the time of his death is not only providing Mary a pathway to healing through the acceptance of the disciple John as her son, and subsequently all the disciples as her surrogate children; Jesus is also tasking John with taking care of Mary. Jesus is once more using this time to teach a nation that had forgotten its true course that He was the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. We know this because the law says in Exodus 22:22-23, “Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry,” and from Isaiah, the prophet says in chapter 1:17, “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” This is not to mention the many examples during Jesus’ life of his own ministry to widows.
Moreover, we do not know why Jesus’ own brothers were not there at his death to be charged with the looking after and care of their mother Mary. Not to mention that certain scholarship argues that Jesus did not have brothers, but that his brothers and sisters were those in faith. Either way, we do not have the time to fully examine this here, but what we do know is that Jesus charges John with this honorable task, one that the self-proclaimed, “most loved of all the disciples” most gladly would have accepted.
What this connection that Jesus is creating between Mary and John, mother and son, also presents us with is an example that Jesus longs for us to fully understand by teaching us once more what family truly means. That looking after family is so vitally important and our family is more than blood, it is more than lineage, it is the people who are united with us in faith. It can be those we are related to, but it is also those whom we unite in faith with and who we are willing to go to the Cross to protect, preserve, serve, and love.
After all, here we have our Savior on the Cross who is shedding his blood for all of us, and in this moment, he longs for us to understand that this blood which is being shed is the very unifying grace that should connect all of those who will come to believe in just what Jesus’ life and ministry meant.
Not to say that we won’t struggle with family, friend, stranger, or foe; after all, Jesus Himself had his own difficulties with his family and the disciples and those who sought to persecute Him. But what matters in the end is that we look upon our sister and brothers, mothers and fathers, family and strangers, and we see not a mixture of difference and disunity; but that we see those whom Christ died for just like us, and we could love them as we were so loved by our Christ who shed blood and tear for Mother and brother, sister and father.
We hear this again in 1 Timothy 5, “Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity. Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” And our “household” is this church, this community, this state, this nation, this world!
Here is your son…Here is your mother.
Lastly, I must mention something else that we all too often paint over in these last words of Christ. The people who were present at the Cross, the ones who were there listening, watching, waiting, crying at the foot of Jesus were not all of the disciples, but Mary Jesus’s mother, Mary’s sister Mary, Mary Magdalene, and John. Where was Peter the rock on which the church was to be built? Where was Mark the first one to write a Gospel, or Matthew whom Jesus loved despite being a tax collector? The ministry of Jesus is done by those who show up. Not just in the meeting places where we feel most comfortable, but at the foot of the Cross, where we face the peril of persecution, at the chance of losing all we have or are or the comforts of our existence, out in the world and right where we are at. During Lent when it is fresh on our mind and the rest of the year too; not just on Sunday, but everywhere the love of Christ is met with fear, doubt, hate, violence, greed, envy, jealousy, or anything else our world would use to get in the way of the love of Christ for all his brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers.
Here is your son…here is your mother. See the in the world this week, call them and let them know they are yours and they are God’s. See Christ in the stranger and the forgotten and the widow and the fatherless and the motherless and the childless and all those our world would rather have you turn away from. That the love of our Savior which He bled for our sins upon the Cross would not be a mark of heaviness or despair; but that we could take this moment when the Light of the World gave everything over so we would know and just maybe learn one more time, take that hope of His as he died for us and love our world.
Here is your son…here is your mother…Here is Christ upon the Cross in one another, Amen!
Our Lenten series for 2023 is walking through the last words of Christ upon the Cross. This week's Gospel passage was from Luke 23:39-43 and contained the second words of Christ upon the Cross (NRSV), "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise."
Rev. Tony Romaine – 03-05-2023
On the tomb of Copernicus, the great Prussian astronomer, is carved in Latin an epitaph said to be written by Copernicus before his death. It can be translated as such:
I do not ask for Paul’s grace,
Nor do I ask for the forgiveness given to Peter;
But what you would give to a thief upon a wooden cross,
I pray for earnestly.
What is it about forgiveness that is so difficult? Perhaps it is that we have not fully confessed and repented our sins? Perhaps it is because forgiveness as a concept is so beyond what we are humanely capable of? And yet, our Savior not only calls us to forgiveness, but teaches us through this passage we have for today, that forgiveness is as simple as accepting the contrite and repentant heart, no matter when.
This story we hear today is all too often played out in our lives. The dying soul that is near the crucible of eternal life in paradise or eternal damnation in sheol can finally see the consequences of their actions and is presented with this moment of clarity and asks for forgiveness. All too often we in our lives wait until the last possible moment to confess, we wait until the last possible moment to act, we wait until the last possible moment to reach out for help; when all along we could have been living lives fully forgiven, fully saved, fully helped, fully enacted.
Many of us here today have actually resisted help to our detriment and have purposefully turned it down in order to preserve our sense of independence, pride, ego, or whatever else we have convinced ourselves of to make the refusal that much more palatable. And when we are finally at that moment when we actually ask for the help, it is either too late or the help is so easily given and the solution so easily found that it makes us wish we would have accepted it all along.
Our Savior offers us this forgiveness always. Hear those words again, because it is so important for us to remember and understand: Our Savior offers us this forgiveness, this grace, this love, always. It is a matter for us then to confess and accept the forgiveness and to change our lives to live into that grace and offer it to others. Sometimes, yes, our pride prevents us from being able to accept that we would need this grace. Sometimes, yes, our ego makes us think that we can outthink or outact or outrun the consequences of our actions. Sometimes, yes, the very gift that our God gave us of free will and intelligence, creates in us a spirit which makes us think we don’t need the grace or forgiveness and that it will just always be there if we need it, we can just go on doing what we want until we confess and then we will be okay again.
This is not true repentance and contrition, this is trying to legitimize our actions, our lives, our sins and use God’s freely given gift of grace to fit into our version of what we want to call faith. When in fact, God’s love for us is so abundant, that indeed our Savior’s offer of forgiveness is there for us always, just waiting for us to turn toward God.
That is what is so often overlooked in these second words of Christ upon the Cross, the scene and characters around Him, as He offers the one thief who repents and does not think up excuses, but fully acknowledges his guilt, his shame, his life that led him to this moment when he is there on a cross with Jesus and the other thief. And in this moment when all that he had seen and heard and experienced about Jesus confronts everything that had been his life, his heart is softened and he prays a simple prayer to our Savior, “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your Kingdom.”
And in the answer that Jesus presents to this criminal who is self-acknowledged as a sinner who deserves the crossly punishment that he is receiving, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise,” we are presented with three very important lessons about God’s grace.
The first lesson we then receive is that the grace Christ offers is freely given. This thief did nothing to deserve the grace that Jesus imparts. This thief did not follow Christ as a disciple, was not a rabbinical scholar, was not a scribe or a Pharisee or an elite or a student of Jesus’ or a devout man of faith who had lived a pious life; no, this man was a convicted sinner who had stolen and was to be put to death. And yet, in this moment upon the Cross where Jesus hangs there in pain and agony and is approaching the end of his earthly time as a human, in this moment when the thief realizes what is happening and prays to God for grace; grace is given. How much more than for us who have this lesson, will grace be freely given?!
The second lesson is that there is immediacy in Christ’s forgiveness. When will the thief be with Christ in paradise? Today! Immediacy, then is what happens when we confess and repent and allow for God’s love to permeate our hardened hearts. Immediacy is how God’s love takes over the sin-sick soul and heals all the corners where darkness exists. Immediacy is the quickness with which the sin abandons the soul of those who believe and have faith and trust in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Immediacy is how fully and speedily God’s love comes to cleanse us from our iniquities and offer us eternal life. When we confess and are repentant and truly contrite; when we give everything we are over to Christ, when we fall upon the foot of that Cross and lay everything down; we are saved immediately, today, now, forever!
Third lesson, there is paradise…yes, there is paradise! There is a place that is not of this world, a place that Christ has prepared for us, a place where we find eternal rest and the pains and ills of this world can no longer affect us; a place where the sins which previously, and perhaps still do, weigh us down no longer wrack our souls or burden our hearts. This place is a juxtaposition to the world in which we inhabit, where wealth and greed and want and pursuing what I want at the expense of other exist. This paradise is free from all the schisms which separate us from race, creed, sex, age, religion, gender, economy, geography, and the list goes on. This paradise is perfection, and it does exist.
The sad part is that if paradise exists, then the opposite also exists. This is what our world likes to paint over and not talk about; that there is an alternate option for those who do not confess and offer their souls in contrition to God. There is something other no matter what name we give it to those who mirror the other thief upon the cross who kept deriding Christ, the soldiers who mocked him, the onlookers and naysayers who would doubt that Christ was the living God and came to offer forgiveness; there is another place and it is the opposite of paradise.
But hear this hope found in these second words of Christ upon the Cross, that when Jesus utters the words, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise,” He is telling us that when we offer ourselves over to Him and are confessed and contrite, that no matter how long we have been aiming for the opposite of paradise, no matter how long we have been in the muck and mire of the darkness of our lives, no matter how long we have been making up excuses for our sinfulness or avoiding confession or not offering up our souls fully to Christ, no matter how long we have been journeying away from the Cross; that in that moment we realize, like the thief who prayed to Jesus, like Paul when he was struck down on the road to Damascus, like you and I when we are confronted and convicted; that when we finally turn toward God and paradise and eternal life in love with God, we receive forgiveness, grace, mercy, love, and paradise.
That as undeserved as we may be, as struck down with sin as our souls may be, that as far from any kind of warmth or hope or joy we may be; when we pray to our Savior, He hears our prayer, he longs for us to come home, and He is there just waiting for us to ask: “my Savior, when your Kingdom comes, remember me!”
I do not ask for Paul’s grace,
Nor do I ask for the forgiveness given to Peter;
But what you would give to a thief upon a wooden cross,
I pray for earnestly.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.