“Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”(Matt 27:46)
According to Matthew, these were the last audible words of Jesus as He hung on a cross, bleeding, gasping for air, suffocating, throbbing in pain.
Through all of my life since my age of reason, I have been taught and I accepted that in His last breath Jesus finally gave up hope. What a contradiction of His mission!? What an awful failure in His last proclamation after forgiving those who put Him on that tree!? Jesus lived the final moment of His human life in fear and forsaken? Is this what we have to live for and finally through ourselves? Even this past Palm/Passion Sunday our ritual psalmody repeated these words in a dirge of lamentation.
I lived with this strange contradiction quietly accepting what I had been taught, arguing occasionally it could not be so and wanting to believe something different but not quite knowing how or where to look for it. Had I been a student of the Psalms I would have understood sooner and better what it means to carry my own cross daily.
Catholic Radio is a pretty good listen if one has an interest in the traditions and rituals of the Church. EWTN is the Catholic Radio network worldwide and in Columbus Ohio is broadcast on AM 810 St. Gabriel Radio. Listening to the Sunrise Morning Show this past week I heard the discussion of this verse with reference to how the Jewish people would invoke an entire Psalm by praying the first verse. The commentator was making this point, that Jesus was not, repeat NOT (you know the rule of emphasis with all CAPS, right?) giving up in the end. Jesus was giving Himself OVER to the Father.
Let that sink in for a moment.
I am going to summarize Psalm 22 here; however, I suggest you take a very close look at it on your own. It is a beautiful hymn of lament and yet of commitment. It has been set to music in the most beautiful praise music I have had the blessing to sing. Felix Goebel-Komala set this in SATB in his Psalm of Hope, also on the album by the same name.
Yes, the first line of the Psalm is as recorded in Matthew. “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me…far from my prayer, from the words of my cry? O my God, I cry out by day, and you answer not” into verse three.
Yet it continues “Yet you are enthroned in the holy place, O glory of Israel!”
First, Jesus laments the distance that seems to be between Him and the Father nearest His moment of death, yet He continues to praise the Father with this Psalm before invoking or petitioning for relief from His suffering! Jesus praises the Father FIRST!
The Psalm continues, ”In you our fathers trusted; they trusted and You delivered them.” Jesus knew He would be delivered!
They mocked Him while they whipped Him and cleaved skin from His flesh. They mocked Him as they put a scarlet robe on Him and struck Him. They mocked Him as he hung there on the tree. In the Psalm, attributed to David who lived a thousand years earlier, the words are “He relied on the Lord; let him deliver him, let him rescue him, if he loves him.” (Ps 22:9)
Immediately after “You have been my guide since I was first formed, my security at my mother’s breast. To you I was committed at birth, from my mother’s womb you are my God.”(Ps 22:10, 11)
Back and forth, through thirty-two lines of prayer, the Psalmist laments his woes yet remains faithful to the Father. “And to Him my soul shall live; my descendants shall serve him. Let the coming generations be told of the Lord that they may proclaim to a people yet to be born the justice he has shown.”(Ps 22:30-32)
It may be of little consequence to some, that a snippet of a radio show might catch one listener’s attention concerning Jewish prayer rituals. I have to trust in the catechist’s education and commitment to study of ancient ritual and prayer, even as I am asking you to trust the work I have accomplished here in these words. I can only offer the personal story of a Christmas trip once taken with my family when our children and their spouses and boyfriends made a twenty-hour trip conversing over hand held radios only in movie line quotations. If it is possible that eight adults could have seen so many of the same movies to comprehend and quote movie lines for that long a time, isn’t it also possible that in ancient times, and maybe not so ancient times, there are those that can and do quote the scriptures they hold so close to their hearts?
And if you are willing to accept these correlations, then maybe, just maybe you’ll be willing to accept that in the full throws of human agony, the Christ gave praise and glory to our Father with the last breath of His human body, rather than giving up in despair.
Happy and blessed Easter to you all. May the peace of the risen Christ breathe into you new life.