“And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” Matthew 27:46
The night before Jesus died, He prayed to the Father, in great anguish: “if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” (Matthew 26:39). Now, as the moment of His death approaches, after hours of agony, Jesus has His answer: it is not possible; the cup will not pass; He is forsaken, and handed over to persecution and death.
And yet this is not a cry of despair. Jesus is quoting Psalm 22, the song of a righteous man who has been handed over to persecution (“Many bulls encircle me … I am poured out like water”), but who never loses faith in God’s holiness (v.3), dominion (v.28) and deliverance (v.31).
So it is for Jesus. He has heard the answer we all dread when we pray in desperation and fear: ‘no’. As a human being, He experiences forsakenness by God in being handed over to His persecutors. But He remains united to God, both as the faithful believer who refuses to despair, and as the incarnate Son of God whose union between Godhead and flesh can never be dissolved.
In our baptisms, we are united with Jesus in this moment (Romans 6:3). All our forsakenness, all our anguish, all our experience of the silent ‘no’ from heaven in response to our prayers is united with that of Christ. But at the same time, we are united with the inextinguishable hope of Christ the incarnate Son of God, and share in His vindication.
This is the paradox of the Cross: the moment that shows most fully our forsakenness by God is the moment that shows (and, indeed, effects) most fully God’s acceptance and salvation of us.
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him;
stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
For he did not despise or abhor
the affliction of the afflicted;
he did not hide his face from him,
but heard when he cried to him.