Saturday, September 5, 2009

Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?

When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, ‘Listen, he is calling for Elijah.’ And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.’ Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’

- Mark 15:33-39

At noon, we are told, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ At this time, darkness came over the whole land, until about 3 P.M. Yesterday I mentioned the practice of praying the hourly offices, a practice continued from Jewish tradition. In this prayer practice, prayers are said at three hour intervals. Noon is considered the sixth hour, 3 P.M. the ninth - each interval marks a time of prayer. In the Christian practice, we recall these events at the times of prayer. My study bible has a note, saying that when the Creator suffers, the creation suffers with him, as Jesus hangs suspended on a cross: "the lights of heaven hide themselves and are darkened." In the Greek text, it is written that Jesus "breathed out" - indicating by its form a voluntary act of "giving up the ghost." (The word pneuma means both "breath" and "spirit." Here it is written in the verb form, to breathe.)

The curtain of the temple is torn in two, symbolically giving us a sense of the curtain between the holy and mankind being forever torn through this death that unites Creator with created. And, too, for me, it suggests grief at what is done to the Creator of all, this murder by crucifixion. How can God die? How can God share with us all the limits and extremes of human life, even through death? This is the great mystery of that cross, coming together at this hour we remember when we pray. Jesus' words, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which mean, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ are the words of prayer. He is praying Psalm 22, which prefigures the crucifixion. I think it's important to read the full psalm, to understand what is being prayed, and what is understood at this time. The paradox of crucifixion will always be with us: is it we who abandon the Lord or we who are abandoned in separation? That torn curtain beckons us toward unity, and to grief at our separation.

The centurion pronounces his verdict, in what remains for me a question of what this man observed, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’ I wonder about a soldier who routinely watches men die this horrible death of crucifixion, and what he witnessed in Jesus that moved him so to faith. Surely it cements the understanding of a voluntary death, of someone who has accepted all that life put before him, and the way to unite Creator with created.

My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?
Why are You so far from helping Me,
And from the words of My groaning?
O My God, I cry in the daytime, but You do not hear;
And in the night season, and am not silent.

But You are holy,
Enthroned in the praises of Israel.
Our fathers trusted in You;
They trusted, and You delivered them.
They cried to You, and were delivered;
They trusted in You, and were not ashamed.

But I am a worm, and no man;
A reproach of men, and despised by the people.
All those who see Me ridicule Me;
They shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying,
“He trusted in the LORD, let Him rescue Him;
Let Him deliver Him, since He delights in Him!”

But You are He who took Me out of the womb;
You made Me trust while on My mother’s breasts.
I was cast upon You from birth.
From My mother’s womb
You have been My God.
Be not far from Me,
For trouble is near;
For there is none to help.

Many bulls have surrounded Me;
Strong bulls of Bashan have encircled Me.
They gape at Me with their mouths,
Like a raging and roaring lion.

I am poured out like water,
And all My bones are out of joint;
My heart is like wax;
It has melted within Me.
My strength is dried up like a potsherd,
And My tongue clings to My jaws;
You have brought Me to the dust of death.

For dogs have surrounded Me;
The congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me.
They pierced My hands and My feet;
I can count all My bones.
They look and stare at Me.
They divide My garments among them,
And for My clothing they cast lots.

But You, O LORD, do not be far from Me;
O My Strength, hasten to help Me!
Deliver Me from the sword,
My precious life from the power of the dog.
Save Me from the lion’s mouth
And from the horns of the wild oxen!

You have answered Me.

I will declare Your name to My brethren;
In the midst of the assembly I will praise You.
You who fear the LORD, praise Him!
All you descendants of Jacob, glorify Him,
And fear Him, all you offspring of Israel!
For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted;
Nor has He hidden His face from Him;
But when He cried to Him, He heard.

My praise shall be of You in the great assembly;
I will pay My vows before those who fear Him.
The poor shall eat and be satisfied;
Those who seek Him will praise the LORD.
Let your heart live forever!

All the ends of the world
Shall remember and turn to the LORD,
And all the families of the nations
Shall worship before You.
For the kingdom is the LORD’s,
And He rules over the nations.

All the prosperous of the earth
Shall eat and worship;
All those who go down to the dust
Shall bow before Him,
Even he who cannot keep himself alive.

A posterity shall serve Him.
It will be recounted of the Lord to the next generation,
They will come and declare His righteousness to a people who will be born,
That He has done this.

- Psalm 22

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