Meditations on Jesus' Words During His Suffering:
by Priest Symeon Elias (Robinson) -copyright 1996
(This article is an examination of the cries from the Cross, and the some of the meanings one priest gives them. Originally written in 1996 as lenten articles and complied and edited for limited distribution in the fall of 2001.)
"Prepare ye the way of the Lord."
The Fourth Cry
"It was about the sixth hour, and a darkness was over the earth until the ninth hour." The scene was surreal, like something out of a movie cast in its own dim light. This darkness gained the attention of the crowd and they were spooked. There was a stillness and silence that accompanied the darkness and in the darkness was heard a loud voice speaking with anguish and despair: "Eloi! Eloi! lama sabachthani ?" "My God! My God! why have you forsaken me?"
I knew a young man who was a horrible baseball player. He was twelve years old and awkward, but he loved the game and knew that the game would help his awkwardness. He and some other boys played an impromptu game on a Moose Lodge field, about a mile and a half down the tracks from his home. His Father lay in bed at home, recovering from a massive heart attack. His Dad was sent home with a "50-50 chance to live" - doctor's lingo for "we're sending you home to die." William had a blood clot next to his heart that might move at any moment and kill him. Our young man, Kenneth was on the way home from the ball game, walking down the Georgia Railroad tracks when he was confronted by a gang of teenage boys. Their leader was a seventeen-year-old homosexual sadist. Today Kenneth is a six-foot-one-inch tall, two-hundred-forty-pound Grandfather, now he finds it difficult to remember what being that vulnerable ninety-eight-pound twelve-year-old felt like but for years it wasn't so. He was cut with a razor knife twenty-two cuts across the back, as some in the gang laughed, some taunted him, some called him queer. He had only a vague idea what queer meant, but that day he was to learn in a gruesome fashion. He was raped by a sad and sick young man, while held helpless, bleeding and in shock. In that instant his childhood was gone. Walking home he realize that he had to summon every bit of strength he owned and he knew that he did not own enough strength to face this and he cried allow for the help of his Heavenly Father. He was certain in his deepest self that his earthly Father was going to die. He had not been fooled by the Doctor's up- beat talk. Being a spiritually aware young man he had read the truth in the Doctor's eyes as he had turned away from his parents and allowed the truth to peek through. Now cut, raped and bleeding, the thought of being the person who brought the shock that would kill his father was a burden even greater than the psychic burden of being attacked. It would have been a stigma to him worse than being raped. He could not let anyone know what had happened to him, because it would be told to his father by those of lesser sensibilities and the shock of it would surely kill him. Weak and shaking still silently praying for strength, he climbed into a bathroom window, praying that no one would see him. He bathed, knotted his bloody clothes into a bundle trying to hide the blood, Rubbed ointment into his wounds best he could, ran to his bedroom with towels rapped around his wounded body, dressed and carried his bloody clothes out behind the barn, doused them with gasoline and burned them, then he buried the ashes. "If my Father was going to die, it would not be words from my mouth that would kill him, that thought is all I can remember of that afternoon." Three weeks later his Dad died anyway. "I can tell you that I was angry, but I did not cry "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me. At this point in life I cannot imagine what could make me feel such a thing as being forsaken by God. And on that afternoon, it was the Holy Father's strength that allowed me to spare my Dad horrible pain on his death bed."
Neither can I imagine what it would take to make me feel God forsaken. My first child and his mother died in a freak auto accident, that didn't do it. My best friend was killed in Vietnam the very same month. That didn't do it. The death of my brother and very close friend at the hands of a drugging and drunken surgeon, didn't do it. I won't belabor the point but I will tell you that this is the short list. I personally don't know and have never experienced that place that Jesus experienced that made him feel forsaken by his Father. Having faced a few difficult and tragic things, I can imagine the feeling of the beating, the weakness of the bleeding, the physical shock to the body, the humiliation of the taunting, the pain, the fear, the sorrow but I can't imagine what is would be like to truly feel God-forsaken. In these sundry difficulties of living I have gained a suspicion that I will never have to go there; to that dark place of deep despair where God's presence seems absent. I have a faith that tells me that "He went there so that I will NEVER have to go there: That in His going there, to that place of absolute despair, that my worst places, no matter how tragic and Godforsaken they may appear, will never be without HOPE because my hope rests in the One who went to that despair for me."
The reality of violent assault made me more than a little fascinated with what the world would be like without the intervening of Our Holy God, coursing existence into being instant by instant by the spirit and power of His Word, present with us to help. Nearly twenty years ago I thought I had found such a place. It was the story of the prison riots in Arizona. The gruesome tale of the siege where prisoners were killing other prisoners for sport, seeing who could murder with the most gruesomeness because to be feared was power. I thought surely as I read the accounts of this sadistic cruelty of man against man that I was witnessing the absence of the Spirit of God. Then years later I read a most remarkable story that was later turned into a T.V. movie. The prison chaplain and several prison employees were herded into a 10' by 10' cell. Several prisoners fired 132 rounds into their bodies and not a single person was killed! In fact there was not a single life threatening wound! and nearly every round had hit someone! They lay still, bleeding, pretending death and all of them came out alive. One man said, "I heard the Chaplain praying under his breath, 'Our Father, Who Art In Heaven . . . ' we all joined in." If there is in store for me a time when I will think that God has forsaken me, I will accept it and bare it - that's macho talk, like the Disciples promising to follow Jesus "to the death. So in reality, I'm a human, and I can't make that statement and know it is true. But, I hope and pray that my faith is confirmed and that I don't ever have to feel whatever Jesus felt that made him scream these words in despair. "Eloi ! Eloi ! lama sabachthani ?" I can't imagine what that feeling was like and I have some reference points to judge.
A young man, came to my door this week to deliver pizza. There was an odd movement in his motions and speech. I asked him, "Are you recovering from a stroke?" "No, a headon collision." He told me about his wreck, the violence he and his eighteen- month-old son who is now eight-years-old endured. He said, "My son took the worst of it, and hasn't walked yet. And all I can say is the Lord was merciful to us, and you can't imagine how he has blessed us." I was shocked by these words of faith from his mouth, but why should I be? Sunday afternoon, my wife and I stepped to the sun- glasses display at Walmart, to replace a pair she broke this week. I caught an odd motion out of the corner of my eye and it was the young pizza delivery man. I introduced him to my wife and he introduced me to his eight year old boy who was racing around the Walmart in a sporty little wheel chair like an event at the Paralympics. He finished his story, telling us that his wife, the mother of the Eight-year-old took a settlement from the accident and abandoned them, leaving the state with another man. He ended up marrying the woman who three years earlier had come to his rescue in front of her house where the collision had happen. They met in Sunday School and she exclaimed, "You can't be that man, that man was dead." I asked him, "Larry, have you ever felt like God was angry at you to allow these things to happen to you?" He said, "Father, I have only felt blessed because he restored my sanity to me." Foolishly I asked, "Do you mean brain damage?" He laughed at the question and said, "No. You see before the accident I was on drugs. And since the accident my sanity has been restored. You see, when I looked to the Cross, my sanity was restored and I have been clean ever since."
It is this very Grace that I am trying to teach in this fourth cry from the Cross. Here a man is injured and his eighteen month old baby paralyzed, his wife betrays him in his recovery, takes the insurance settlement and leaves with another man, leaving him with a paraplegic boy and instead of looking every day at that boy in the wheel chair as a burden or feeling guilt, he looks and sees blessings. How can this be? He marries the angel of mercy who at the accident scene held his head in her lap - holding his skull in place - thinking him dead. He finds ultimate grief and ultimate faith - It can be - ONLY when we realize the transcendent sovereignty of God the Father (Our Father Who Art IN Heaven) and the ultimate justice of All His actions. And the truth that in our worse pain, when we are wounded and bleeding and injured for life, that these wounds are healed by turning our face to the Father in trust. Our comfort coming from the one who faced the "comfortless place of the total absence of the Father's presence" who for us all, and for all time cried, "Eloi ! Eloi ! lama sabachthani ?" so we won't ever have to.
Such deep faith, held by a simple man beats all the mystigogues and all the new age gurus combined and all those who like the false prophets of old think that "faith" is a mental exercise, who prattle about THEIR greatness and THEIR spiritual accomplishments. They are like King Nebuchadnezzar of old. "Never before has there been so much information, so much spiritua" talk, so much spiritual sophistication and so little sanity. Gurus have made fortune after fortune on the spiritual pride of the spiritually insane. Daniel records the story of the Babylonian kind Nebuchadnezzar, proudly prancing the roof of his palace, overlooking the bright lights and big city saying: "Is this not the great Babylon which I have built by my power and for the glory of my majesty?" This is no different than the people of mind sciences speaking of the "levels of spirituality that THEY have accomplished." But God put the king in his place; driving him from society into the wild to live like an animal. At the end of that time, Nebuchadnezzar, went on to praise the ONE TRUE GOD who does as he pleases, without getting human permission. "Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because every thing he does is right and all his ways are just." It was only when the transcendence (raising his eyes toward heaven) was realized through "divine humiliation" that reality finally fell into place for Nebuchadnezzar. We as a society have been through are going through the time of divine humiliation - where we have lost our sanity, and we have became as animals instead of men and women, sanity is attempted through drugs, sex, therapies, mind sciences, spiritual gurus, astrology, numerology, and cause after cause. But all this lumped together fails to gain the level of "faith in the Father", and in reality it is a "closed circle of pure materialism" paraded as "higher levels and spiritual development." True higher levels and true spiritual development are possible ONLY when we rediscover OUR FATHER - the majesty, holiness and sovereignty of God.
When I compare the reality of the scene of Jesus hanging on the Cross, placing his being in harms way, willing to travel to the place of this fourth cry, against the shallow prattling of the "how to" programs, the preachers who have become nothing but motivational speakers, and the mind sciences that try to pass themselves off as "spiritual enlightenment" . . . when I hear the shallow solutions coming from the false prophets of our times, government Utopianist, the sociological, psychological, pharmaceutical, neumanistic post-modern "experts" I hear Jeremiah saying of similar false prophets of his day, "They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. 'Peace, peace' they say, when there is not peace." And indeed peace cannot come until we learn to reach to the reality of the Father and learn to pray as Jesus taught us, "Our Father Who Art In Heaven. Sacred and Honored be Your Name."
Prayer: Jesus, Our Beloved, Singular and Special, Eldest Brother, teach us the ways you know of our spiritual family, to honor our Father in Heaven, with you and all those who place their faith in His transcendent reality and justice and sovereign actions in the history of men. And on that special day, thank you for stepping into that dark night of desolation, taking the sting of death, robbing the grave of our company and facing the void of the Father's absence. Because of your great gift Saint Paul could say with conviction, understanding and certainty, "O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy victory?" You took both, on the Cross, and removed them from "we who hope in Thee" in that moment of desolation and agony when you cried in the darkness of that day, "Eloi ! Eloi ! lama sabachthani?" Our Father who art in heaven, hollowed be Thy Name, Precious Jesus, We Love and Adore Thee! Have Mercy on us. Holy Spirit, O comfort of all who Love God, One in essence, one the same. Amen.