Bearing the Consequences of Becoming Vulnerable

by Jason Micheli

Length: 25:12

Psalm 22, Mark 15  (click to see Scripture text)

March 7, 2021

share this sermon

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on email

When I was a student at Princeton, I took a course on the Gospel of Mark. 

Our professor, Dr. Juel, made sure that by the end of the semester Mark’s Gospel was our favorite of the four. 

It became my favorite book of the Bible. 

     Dr. Juel began the first session of the course on Mark by saying, “Here’s a question for you….” and he took a long pause so we knew we wouldn’t be reviewing the syllabus. “What would you say about a book that spent one-third of its story narrating the death of its main character?” 

A classmate responded: “I’d say that it sounded like the author was a person who had not come to terms with the death of someone they loved.” 

Dr. Juel nodded and followed up with another question: “Isn’t it ironic that even though Jesus was only dead for two days, his followers had such incredible difficulty coming to terms with that death? Why is that, do you suppose? Do you think they were haunted by the role their betrayal had played in his death? Or, do you think they struggled to make sense of the ghastly way his life ended?”

“Maybe both,” a student ventured. 

And Dr. Juel snapped his fingers and nodded.

I wonder— 

How do we make sense of the fact that Jesus nears his death sounding like he believes God has abandoned his life? 

“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” 

Has God ghosted Jesus here on Golgotha? 

Have the Powers of Sin and Death, doing their worst to Jesus of Nazareth, finally cut the signal between Father and Son? 

“Where can I go from your spirit?” King David asks rhetorically, “Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol…even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.”

But then—

“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” 

Is the cross the one place King David didn’t stop to consider, the one place from which even the abiding presence of Almighty God flees?

Not only is one-third of Mark’s Gospel a passion story, much of that passion story is a prophetic enactment of songs from the Old Testament. 

Just like the Suffering Servant portends, Jesus stands mute before those who accuse him of blasphemy. 

Despite his innocence, Jesus suffers smiting and spitting just like the song in Isaiah 50 augurs. 

Christ cries out “I thirst” according to the script in Psalm 69. 

Christ commends his Spirit to the Father, echoing the thirty-first Psalm. 

The soldiers cast lots for his clothes. He’s crowned in mock majesty. Naked and bloodied, he endures the shaming eyes of bystanders and passersby— all of it according to the songs. 

And today we hear Jesus cry out from another song, Psalm 22, “My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me?” 

ἐγκαταλείπω.

Utterly abandon.

Before it got to Golgotha, did Jesus expect the Father finally to answer the prayer he had prayed last night in Gethsemane? 

Did Jesus hold out hope that God would move this cup of wrath from him before it got to nails and naked shame? 

According to the Book of Deuteronomy, anyone who dies upon a tree as accursed by God. Crucifixion is a godforsaken death. His disciples abandon him because his mission has ended not simply in failure but a damned failure. And now, having hung on the cross from noon to three, it sounds as though Jesus’s faith is the final thing to be emptied from him just as he pours out the last of his life? 

“My God, my God, why hast thou left me high and dry?”

A member of our congregation, Tracy Hanson, died last week. Tracy’s mother, Shirley, cared for her special needs daughter for over sixty years. Earlier this year Tracy was diagnosed with Alzheimers, a burden of care that required more help than Shirley could provide on her own. 

On Christmas, Tracy contracted COVID-19 from the home health nurse. 

Speaking to Shirley as Death approached her daughter, she told me how even after names and faces faded into the oblivion of Alzheimers, Tracy did not forget God nor did she ever consider that God might forget her. 

“I sat beside her in the hospital,” Shirley told me on the phone, “and I told her to give all her fears over to the Lord. I said to her, ‘He’s right here beside you too. He won’t ever leave you.’”

Here’s a question for you: Would Mark have us conclude that Tracy and her mother faced Death with more faith than Jesus Christ?

“My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me?” 

Before the pandemic, Ali and I took some out-of-town friends on a tour of the National Cathedral. 

It had been a couple of years since we’d visited the Cathedral and I had completely forgotten the news story until we stumbled upon it in the crypt below the main sanctuary, the tomb for the cremains of Matthew Shepard, the young gay man brutally beaten to death and left utterly forsaken on a barbed-wire fence on a winter night in Wyoming over twenty years ago. 

Seeing Matthew Shepherd’s final resting place, I recalled watching the cathedral service when he was laid to rest. 

Shepard’s parents requested that their son’s ashes be interred at the cathedral twenty years after his torturous murder. 

They’d never laid him to rest because they feared his gravesite would be desecrated. 

“Matthew loved the church,” said Shepard’s father, Dennis. “He loved the fact that it was a safe place for anyone who wanted to enter. It’s so important that we now have a home for Matt … A home that is safe from haters. A home that he loved dearly. It’s been a long time but we knew— we had faith— that God would vindicate Matthew.”

Does Mary’s son have less faith in the faithfulness of God than Matthew Shepard’s Mom and Dad?

“My God, my God why hast thou utterly abandoned me?” 

Christians frequently interpret Jesus’s cry of dereliction in terms of Christ’s substitutionary death.

God has abandoned Jesus, we imagine, just as God would abandon sinful humanity were it not for Jesus, the vicarious sinner standing in our place. 

Jesus on the cross is alone in the most existential possibility of the word, we conclude, he’s experiencing something worse than betrayal and torture, the sheer and total separation from God that is rightly due all of us woebegone sinners. 

And to be sure, you can derive such an interpretation of the crucifixion from scripture. 

For instance, there’s what Paul writes to the Corinthians, “God made him to be sin who knew no sin.” 

The epistle to the Galatians is another example, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us.” 

You can find grounds in the Bible for interpreting Christ’s cry of forsakenness as a godforsakenness Jesus experiences in our place. 

You can find justification in scripture for interpreting Christ’s agony and death as satisfying our debt of sin before a holy and righteous God. 

Except— 

This is the Gospel of Mark. 

And Mark is not Matthew or John. Mark is not Paul or Peter or the writer of the Book of Hebrews. There is not what Aslan calls “deeper magic” in Mark’s Gospel. 

According to Mark, there is no necessity on God’s end for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. 

In Mark’s Gospel, God does not require blood or forsakenness in order to be merciful. 

In Mark’s Gospel, God is not obligated to obey any law external to himself. 

In Mark’s Gospel, the cross is the predictable, inevitable outcome of an encounter between our world and the God who made it.  

In Mark’s Gospel, the reason for Christ’s death is quite simply that we kill him. 

Rather than Jesus dying to take away our sin, in our sin we do away with Jesus. 

In Mark’s Gospel, it’s as simple as it is indicting. 

Jesus dies because God is willing to suffer the consequences of becoming vulnerable. 

To people like us. 

And so—

If, in Mark’s Gospel, God does not require Jesus to experience utter abandonment, and if, in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus has known since chapter one that his insistence on transgressing boundaries would lead to something like a crucifixion—if both those things are true (God does not require Jesus’s cross and Jesus has always known his ministry was headed for a cross) how do we make sense of Christ’s final cry from it? 

“My God, my God, why hast thou utterly abandoned me?”

Just as Mark’s Gospel is one-third passion story, much of that passion story is a prophetic performance of Israel’s sacred music, the Psalms and the songs of the Suffering Servant. 

“My God, my God why hast thou utterly abandoned me?” 

You have to know the song. 

In order to understand the story, you have to know the song.

Try this. 

Fill in the blanks:

If I say, “The Lord is my shepherd…”

You say___________.

If I say, “Yea though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death…”

What do you say next?

If I say, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and…”

And what? 

“And I will dwell in the House of the Lord forever.”

You have to know the song to understand the story. 

I was a lifeguard for seven years. I realize (other than Pat Vaughn) you likely don’t want to picture this body in a bathing suit during worship (or so close to lunchtime) but I was a lifeguard for more than seven years. 

I was a head lifeguard for five. 

I taught lifesaving classes— CPR, First Aid, Child and Infant— for four years. 

I lifeguarded so much one adult and three children are alive and breathing today because of yours truly. 

But to this day, if it was my goddaughter on the ground, I would not remember if I should pump on her chest first or breath into her mouth. The steps that I taught for seven years are still not seared into my memory. 

Because it was all prose. 

At the same time, if I were a braver man, I could sing for you all three verses plus the chorus of the theme song from the 1980’s superhero sit-com, The Greatest American Hero. 

It was only on the air from 1981 to 1983, a mere forty-five episodes— I was only like five years old then, and I have not watched it since— but to this day I can sing that song from top to bottom (and I do in the shower at least once a week). 

Songs get into our heads and our hearts through our ears. 

Like Number 23 on Israel’s Billboard Top 150 Billboard.

Almost everyone knows Psalm 23 by heart. It’s like “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey. 

You hear it everywhere— certainly almost every time someone dies. 

So what would Mark have us make of this line from Psalm 22 when Jesus cries as he dies, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 

Does Jesus stop believing on the cross? 

Or rather, does his cry of anguish suggest that Jesus believes God has abandoned him? 

You know the twenty-third psalm from memory because you’ve had occasion to hear it and recite it over and over again. 

But what if I told you that, as Jews, the audience gathered at Golgotha would’ve had all one hundred and fifty psalms committed to memory. 

They didn’t have Spotify or Sirius XM. 

This was the only music they knew. 

As Jews, they would’ve sung the psalms, working their way in order, a minimum of three times a day. 

The psalms were an integral part of the daily office. 

The psalms were taught to children, orally, from before the children could form for themselves the harsh consonants of Hebrew. 

The Jews at the foot of his cross would’ve recognized the psalter’s line about godforsakeness. 

They would’ve known the song that begins “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” like I stubbornly know all the words to Sir Mix A Lot’s “Baby Got Back.”

It’s as ubiquitous as a Rick Roll. 

They would’ve known  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” is the first line from the twenty-second psalm. 

And they would’ve known the next line of the psalm sings: “Oh my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.” 

But as all the Jews who heard Jesus would surely know “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” is only the first line of Israel’s twenty-second psalm. 

They could’ve sung the rest of Psalm 22 right along with Jesus.

Jesus’ listeners would’ve known this psalm which begins with godforsakeness ends—it builds towards is more like it— on a different note entirely. 

The psalm that begins with an anguished cry of godabandonment concludes with confidence in God’s vindication: 

“You who fear the Lord, praise him!

For he did not despise or abhor
the affliction of the afflicted;
he did not hide his face from me,
but heard when I cried to him.
For dominion belongs to the Lord,
and he rules over the nations.

To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
and I shall live.

Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord,
and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,
saying that he has done it.”

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 

It is not Christ’s final cry from the depths of a suffering we sinners deserve. 

It is the first line of Christ’s faithful affirmation that Death is being defeated, and that his faithful life unto death— even death on a cross— will be vindicated.

The question at the heart of Mark’s Gospel is not, Dr. Juel taught me, “Why did Jesus have to die?” The question at the heart of the Gospel of Mark is, “Will God leave him there?”

Just before Christmas, I had a celebratory lunch, in the bed of my pickup truck, at Taco Bell with my friends Brian and Dewayne. I’ve shared a bit of Dewayne’s story with you before. 

When he was 25, Dewayne was charged in the murder of a police officer and cashier during a botched robbery of a cash check store in Houston. 

Upon his arrest, Dewayne had insisted that he’d been at home alone and that his girlfriend, whom he’d called from a landline in his apartment, could verify his alibi. 

The prosecutor and lead investigator instead hid the phone record from discovery and proceeded with a capital case against a man whom they knew to be innocent. 

Dewayne fit the profile for a convenient scapegoat and an easy conviction. 

He’d grown up poor. He’d dropped out of school in the ninth grade. His skin was the right color. So, a Texas doctor ginned up Dewayne’s IQ from 67, which qualified him as mentally handicapped, to 70, which qualified him for execution. 

Despite any forensic evidence whatsoever or eyewitness corroboration, an all-white jury sentenced Dewayne to death in 2003. He spent the next twelve years in a sixty-square-foot single cell. 

Once a day, he was allowed to stand in an open-air room a little larger than his cell to catch a glimpse of the sky.

My good friend Brian was the attorney who took Dewayne’s case pro bono in 2005 and finally won him his freedom ten years later. It took another seven years for Texas to pay Dewayne the two million dollar compensation he was owed under state law. 

Dewayne wanted to celebrate the compensation by eating at Taco Bell of all places. 

In the cold, chewing on a burrito supreme, I asked him, “Did you ever actually think this day would come? The day when you would be free and cleared with enough money to make a life for yourself?” 

“Truthfully? I did believe. Even when I prayed and prayed there didn’t seem to be no answers to my prayers and I had no reason to hope, I knew God would deliver me. That’s just the kind of God we got.” 

Another teacher of mine, the theologian Robert Jenson, writes, “Until the moving finger writes a conclusion on Easter morning, it is not settled whose story will have been written on Good Friday, the triumph of the Man for Others or the bitter victory of the others who attempt to do away with him?” 

In other words, the cross puts the question to the Father, “Will the Father stand to be the Father of this alleged Son?” 

Will the Father be a God who eats and drinks with outcasts and sinners, who justifies the ungodly, and whose mercy transgresses even his own holy law? 

For the Father to vindicate this Son from the Cross and grave will mean there is no God but the one who said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” 

The Cross puts the question to the Father, “Would he be such a God as we find in the Son?” 

The Resurrection is the Father’s “Yes.” 

So hear the Good News for you:

If you fear God has forsaken you, if you feel utterly abandoned and alone, left high and dry, if you’re struggling to hold it all together or suffering more than you think you can bear— no matter what you’ve done or left undone, no matter your sin or unfaithfulness, no matter your guilt or innocence— the Living God will— maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, maybe not in the manner you would prefer— vindicate you. 

The Lord will not leave you alone. 

The Lord will not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted. 

The Lord will not hide his face from you. 

The Lord will hear when you cry out to him. 

Not because of who you are but because of who God is. 

Who God is is no longer a mystery.

Because the tomb is empty, because he is not there— he has been raised, because Christ is risen indeed, the Man for Others and the Father who vindicates him from the grave, this is the kind of God we’ve got. 

 

To the leader: according to The Deer of the Dawn. A Psalm of David.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.


Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our ancestors trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried, and were saved;
in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.


But I am a worm, and not human;
scorned by others, and despised by the people.
All who see me mock at me;
they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
‘Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver—
let him rescue the one in whom he delights!’


Yet it was you who took me from the womb;
you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.
On you I was cast from my birth,
and since my mother bore me you have been my God.
Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.


Many bulls encircle me,
strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
they open wide their mouths at me,
like a ravening and roaring lion.


I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast;
my mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.


For dogs are all around me;
a company of evildoers encircles me.
My hands and feet have shrivelled;

I can count all my bones.
They stare and gloat over me;
they divide my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots.


But you, O Lord, do not be far away!
O my help, come quickly to my aid!
Deliver my soul from the sword,
my life
from the power of the dog!
   Save me from the mouth of the lion!


From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued
me.
I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters;

in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
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 me,

but heard when I
cried to him.


From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
The poor
shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek him shall praise the Lord.
May your hearts live for ever!


All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the Lord;
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before him.

For dominion belongs to the Lord,
and he rules over the nations.


To him,
indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
and I shall live for him.

Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord,
and
proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,
saying that he has done it.

They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take.

 

It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. The inscription of the charge against him read, ‘The King of the Jews.’ And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left.Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!’ In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Messiah,the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.’ Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.

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.

Subscribe

*After submission, a confirmation email will be sent to the email address you provided. Please click the link to complete your subscription. You can opt out of receiving emails from us at any time.

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By using this website you agree to our Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy.