Holy Week: Forsaken and Re-Membered
And so, we arrive at Holy Week!
In our Lenten journey of re-ligion—a re-reading of and re-joining to the Easter narrative—we have been invited into the joyful freedom of restraint and of making way. We have been invited to notice ways in which the Paschal Mystery—the cycle of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection—is embedded within in our own stories, so that our deaths large and small might become redemptive, rather than terminal. We have pondered how the divine providence of cross and empty tomb rehabilitates cultural proverbs like ‘it is what it is’ and ‘everything happens for a reason’. In each of our reflections Phil and I have suggested ways in which the Easter story is a daily human reality to be noticed and lived into, rather than simply an annual festival that is celebrated over a long-weekend but soon forgotten.
This once-a-year approach tends to domesticate Easter’s mystery at work in our lives. One example is a common interpretation of Jesus’ terrifying, Good Friday howl: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46, Mk 15:34). As Easter rolls around, we tame its rich meaning by saying things like, ‘God the Father abandoned Jesus so we wouldn’t be abandoned.’ Such summaries lack nuance and depth. A theological can of worms, to be sure, this assertion creates its own problems; ‘the Father turns his face away’ leads to a Jekyll and Hyde God. How do we reconcile Jesus’ claim of the Father that “the one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone” (John 8:29)? Are not Father, Son and Spirit never more unified than in that moment of cosmic reconciliation (2 Cor 5:19)? A liberating alternative is to understand Jesus’ cry of abandonment as what any good Jew processing confounding trauma would do: return to Psalm 22, through which he prays the raw emotion of human forsakenness whilst remembering, as the Psalmist goes on to declare, that God’s face is not hidden amidst this experience (Ps 22:24).
Perhaps even more problematic and confusing is the assumption that Jesus’ cry means we won’t experience God’s abandonment. I think of my 13-year-old self one December morning having just learned of my dad’s death, and the visceral sensation of being cut off from the world. I think of Ted, a retiree Sonia and I bump into on occasion at the local dog park, who speaks softly of the recent death of his wife of 58 years. I think of people’s countless untold stories in war torn countries and refugee camps, hospital bedsides and mental health wards, family courts and Centrelink lines. I think of the way in which Edvard Munch’s The Scream captures the common experience of being quarantined from life. These all remind me of the very real experiences of feeling alone and forsaken, even by God.
What is your grief, your loss, your trauma? What is your lament? What is your numb ache?
Jesus’ cry invites you not to neat Easter clichés, but to honesty amidst mystery. This is the rawest edge of paschal spirituality. Jesus does not save us from death and experiences of abandonment. Instead, he is the God who walks us through such realities along the path to paschal wholeness. We are freed to lament and howl our own cries of forsakenness because, if we listen carefully, we find ourselves in concert with Jesus’ own screams.
And in this twist of solidarity, we encounter Easter Sunday’s surprising gift: we are, in fact, re-membered.
A sad-happy Easter to you.
Bruce is Head of Spiritual Direction at Tabor. He is passionate about helping others ‘talk the walk’ in ways that cultivate deep, reflective, and congruent living, so they can more faithfully walk their talk. This is expressed through his teaching (reflective practice, formation, pastoral care, spirituality, spiritual direction), scholarship, spiritual direction practice and curation of retreats.