Monday, 21 March 2016

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”: a sermon for Good Friday (Matthew 27:45–49)

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 

The experience of humanity in recent centuries is the experience of God-forsaken-ness. 

There was a time, many centuries ago, when all life in western nations was infused with the experience of Christian faith.  Back in those times we call the Middle Ages, everyday life in all its concerns was intimately connected with the life of faith.  What we today call the “secular” dimension of life was not something of which people were aware.  Everything was all bound up with the life of faith.

Times since then have changed.  In many ways - we would all say – times have changed for the better. 
  • Diseases that used to kill people are now very curable.
  • Public sanitation and personal hygiene are much better.
  • People’s diets are much better.
  • More people have access to education.
  • There is a greater social equality among people.
  • People, for the most part, are much less superstitious.
There are many ways in which society has changed for the better in the centuries since the Middle Ages.

But, as well, in the centuries since the Middle Ages, it’s been a lot harder to have faith in God.  There has been a reduction ... century after century ... year after year ... in the role that most people see for God in our lives.   One Christian writer some years ago wrote of the “God of the Gaps”.  As science is able to explain more and more about the world around us, the role played by God in many people’s minds is shrinking.

And, as a result, we come to our own day.  For an increasingly number of people, God is absent from life.  For many people, humanity is profoundly alone in the universe.  For many people, their existence seems radically God-forsaken.  The experience of humanity in our own day is the experience of God-forsaken-ness. 

This sense of God-forsaken-ness has ethical implications.  Even for many people with a religious faith, there is a profound sense in which God is ethically absent.  This experience of living in a world in which God is ethically absent has its many monuments.  The monuments are littered around the world, monuments with names such as Auschwitz, …Dachau, … Hiroshima, … Nagasaki, … Tienanmen Square, … Risdon Cove, … Chernobyl,  … Fukushima, … Dunblane, … Port Arthur, … Columbine, … Ferguson, … and Charleston.  Humanity has profoundly suffered from this sense of God’s absence.

On the cross, Jesus also felt abandoned by God:   “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  At that moment, Jesus also felt profoundly alone in the universe.  At that moment, Jesus felt a profound God-forsaken-ness in his own existence.

On this day when we remember Jesus’ crucifixion, let us also remember that Jesus experienced that same sense of abandonment, aloneness, and God-forsaken-ness that is the deep-seated experience of our culture. 

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 

As we reflect today on the cross and Jesus’ experience of God’s absence, we know that this is not the end of the story.  If Good Friday is about God’s absence, Easter Day is about God’s enduring presence.  We know that Good Friday is not the end of the story. If Jesus’ experience of God-forsaken-ness was not the end of the story for Jesus, neither need it be the end of the story for us, or for our world.  I believe a sermon for Good Friday could appropriately conclude with those words that often appear the end of a television programme where the story continues, and the plot is resolved, in the following episode:  “To be continued”.

On the cross, Jesus experienced God’s profound absence.  He did so in solidarity with us, who also experience God’s profound absence:
  • either individually or as a culture,
  • either occasionally or constantly.
Jesus experienced God’s absence on the cross so that we could experience God’s presence.  

 “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  

... To be continued ...

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