Trigger Warning: This sermon names many of life’s traumatic experiences including economic, sexual, and addiction trauma. Written by Rev. KJ Norris for Good Friday, April 10, 2020, Kerr Presbyterian Church.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?
These are the last words of Jesus that Matthew records before Jesus cries out in a loud voice and breathes his last breathe.
My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?
Have you ever felt forsaken?
I suppose forsaken is an odd word. It’s an old-timey word. A Bible word. One we do not use very much. It has a weight to it that other words do not. Sister words exist for it like abandoned. Forgotten. Deserted.
Often as Christians we are prone to rush to good news. The first four books of the New Testament are called the Good News—the Gospels.
We love to give praise reports and sing happy birthday and celebrate with one another.
Our churches are ordinarily flooded with people on Easter to hear the story of the resurrection, to be reminded of the joy of our salvation.
But fewer come on Good Friday.
Good Friday is harder. It is difficult to see the church stripped of all it’s color, to watch the sanctuary get darker and darker, to hear the old, old story of Jesus in the garden, before the Pilate, on the cross.
To hear the emotion of forsakenness.
But this is a part of our tradition, too. It’s an important part of the experience of people of faith. We are a people called to remember, called to consider, not just times of rejoicing, but also times of forsakenness.
Have you ever read Psalm 22?
It begins: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Psalm 22:1, NRSV)
It goes on:
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. (Psalm 22:1-2, NRSV)
When Jesus cried out those words on the cross, he was not only experiencing the pain of great loss, suffering, mourning, and betrayal. He was also entering into the very heart of human anguish.
It is human to ask why. It is human to feel deeply. It is human to cry out.
This is the ancient Biblical tradition called lament. It is the tradition of crying out before God. It is a way of coming before God even in our forsakenness—in our despair and anguish and sorrow.
It is a tradition of naming pain. Of being honest with God and with ourselves about the hurt that we see in the world. About the pain that we ourselves experience.
Many of us are taught as children to “tough it out” to “buck-up” to “man-up.” We learn to hid our emotions of hurt or embarrassment on the playground. And later as we mature many of us learn a kind of stoicism. Often we need to learn this. We protect ourselves from feeling too much emotion so that we can finish our work or be more productive. And for many adults we feel even more pressure to hid our emotions, to stomp them down, to not feel. We think that we are protecting our children by keeping our emotions at bay. That we have to keep smiling for our families. That we have to be the rock everyone can depend upon.
But interesting, Scripture does not treat humanity like many of us treat ourselves. Instead, we find over an over again that the prayers of the faithful are often prayers which express emotion. Yes, some of these emotions are ones of joy—songs of praise to God or moments of remembrance like Psalm 122 which shouts out in joy, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’” (Psalm 122:1, NRSV).
But one Biblical scholar notes that 80% of the Psalms are Psalms of Lament. 80%. The vast majority are not joyful songs of praise but rather deep seated emotional cries for God to come to their rescue, for God to hear their plea, and yes, even for God to respond in a moment when everything within them says God has forsaken them. This deep lament is also a form of praise.
It’s a way of connecting with God. It is a way of faithfulness even in the darkest moments. Even in the times when we might describe ourselves as questioning our faith or losing our faith.
Have you ever felt forsaken?
As your pastor, I feel a strong call to keep your stories confidential, and I do not want to betray your trust, but I will lovingly say that I know many of you have felt forsaken.
You’ve entrusted me with your stories.
Stories of awakening to the shock of Narcan in your bodies—the deep emptiness that comes after a high which almost stole your life away. The pain of family members that comes with it as a family grieves a near loss.
Or the feeling of forsakenness that comes when a child is not saved but instead loses life to addiction which ragged for days or months or years.
Some have experienced the pain that comes from another taking away their choice to say no to sexual activity.
Some have experienced the trauma of being forced to leave their homelands from violence or economic trial, only to come to a new land and face fierce discrimination and incrimination.
Some have sat the long hours of incarceration, longing for a second chance only to be released and to find society chooses to hold on to the past instead of choosing forgiveness and enabling a way forward.
Some have yearned for dreams unfulfilled. Plans were made, perhaps with a spouse but death or divorce or abandonment squashed the vision of what could have been.
Many of us know what it is to feel forsaken.
And for many of us, this time of physical distancing is a new form of forsakenness.
Many of us are out of work. Our paychecks have stopped and even if we can receive unemployment, our healthcare has been discontinued. We fear the future and are asking what we did to deserve this.
For others we are still working and find ourselves unable to stop. The pressure to accomplish from home is overwhelming. We have no routine and no formal meetings so we work dawn to dusk, never satisfied with our own productivity.
Some of us are sick. And in this time no one can visit us in the hospital or nursing home. We feel alone in our suffering.
I’ve been praying all week about whether or not it is okay to name these things. Is it okay to name our suffering? Is it okay to name our collective pain? My sister will tell you, I have burst into tears more times than I can count writing these words.
But I feel compelled to tell them because I believe strongly that this can be a way of faith. A way of faith found in not to hiding our pain or putting on a brave face. But a way of faith that includes facing our pain. Naming it. Seeing it. Experiencing it.
And in experiencing it we find that we are not alone.
We find that our God, the one who loves us, who created us, who forgives us, and recreates us. The one who has a plan and a purpose for us, the very God of the universe, God understands.
God came to earth and experienced the deepest suffering one could experience. Jesus knows betrayal. Jesus knows suffering. Jesus knows what it is like to reach that point where we can only cry out to God: My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?
This is lament.
This is the faithful tradition of questioning our faith. This is the faithful tradition of bringing our whole selves—however we are—before the Lord.
Today and tomorrow, Good Friday and Holy Saturday, I want to encourage you to practice lament. It’s not something that we practice very often. But this year, more than most, we need this way of faith.
I want to encourage you to not rush in to Easter, but to stay in Good Friday a little longer. I want to encourage you to lament.
And if you have young people in your life, kids who live with you, encourage them to lament, as well. They too are experiencing big emotions right now. The great theologian and child psychologist Mr. Rogers once said, “At many times throughout their lives, children will feel the world has turned topsy-turvy. It’s not the ever-present smile that will help them feel secure. It’s knowing that love can hold many feelings, including sadness, and that they can count on the people they love to be with them until the world turns right side up again.”
We are collectively feeling the topsy-turvy-ness of life. Give yourself permission to feel it. Give your kids permission to feel it. Maybe through writing a poem or a prayer like the Psalmists. Maybe through singing a song. Maybe through drawing a picture. Maybe through collectively shouting at the top of your lungs. Maybe through sitting in silence.
There are a million ways to choose to lament. Whatever your way, remember that God is with you in it. You are not alone.
**Want to know more about lament? Here are two helpful articles: