Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachthani.
What were you saying, Lord Jesus, when you called out from the cross? What did you mean, what did you know? Surely you quoted the twenty-second psalm, but how much of it? Was it just this verse or did you mean to quote it all? I wonder what those familiar words meant to you?
At times of great trauma, our minds detach from the tragedy around us. For self- protection, we distance ourselves, an onlooker acting out the story of our lives. Stumbling through on autopilot we dare not stop to think ‘this cannot be’, ‘surely reality will return soon’. Perhaps we travel to a safe place in our minds, a memory which dulls the pain.
Did the familiar words of the Psalm do this for you, Lord Jesus? Transporting you to a childhood in Nazareth, the synagogue, chanting with other pupils, committing those verses to memory so that when needed they would surface again. Interpreting, making sense, comforting in whatever situation. I remember my grandfather, his sofa a makeshift deathbed, quoting these words. Sometimes the psalms have been a comfort to me: ‘He maketh me lie down in green pastures, he leadeth me beside still waters.’
Yet those are words of strength and reassurance. You cried out from the cross in anguish. This is a cry of desolation. Did you see the psalm fulfilled all around you? The soldiers cast lots for your garments, the elders jeered – their words in Matthew’s gospel a direct quote from the Psalm. Was crucifixion like that? Hands and feet pierced with nails. A distorted body with bones out of joint. Dehydration, gasping for water. Heart melts, strength fades, death draws close.
Those around misunderstood – ‘Eli, Eli? He’s calling for Elijah’ they said, let’s see if Elijah comes to take him.
You spoke, not to a prophet, but to your Father in heaven. A father whose presence you had known throughout your life, but who was now strangely, agonisingly absent. Had you anticipated this Lord? You spoke often of what lay ahead in Jerusalem, how you would be given up to Gentiles and die on a cross. You clearly foresaw what would happen but was it possible to anticipate the darkness, the isolation the desolation of being abandoned by God your Father?
You had walked intimately with God, no impediment between you. You alone of all humanity had never sinned, there was nothing in your life to distance you from God. Only you therefore could be the innocent one who took sin upon himself, only you could offer yourself in our place. And as you did so you felt in a way that we shall never know, for the first time, separation and isolation, the judgement of God against sin.
Is that why your last words are ‘It is finished!’ Certainly not ‘I am finished’ this is the end of me. But IT is finished. Finished is the great work of atonement. God’s plan is complete. Humanity is reconciled with him through you Lord, and people from all nations will one day come and worship him.
And I wonder, Lord, I really wonder, were you adapting the last words of the Psalm as your last words? Did you use it to frame the cross? For the Psalmist sees beyond suffering to vindication. Did you see that Lord? Did you bring to mind the whole Psalm ? Did you cry out in dereliction and follow the movement of the psalm to completion, vindication? Can we see here the hope of Easter Day? ‘Before those who fear you I shall fulfil my vows’. ‘All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord.’
‘For he has done it’. He has done it. It is finished. Your work, O Lord is complete. Thank you.