Back in April, I wrote about a problem I had with understanding Jesus’ words on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34)
In my prior, faithless life as a skeptic and agnostic, I saw this as a big hole in all of the reasons for believing in Jesus. On the surface, it sounds like he gave up in the end. But in fact, that is the farthest thing from the truth.
The traditional explanation, as Tom at Disputations pointed out, is “that it is to be first understood as the prayer of Psalm 22—the whole of the psalm—and that Jesus was both praying it Himself, in unparalleled human distress, and teaching His disciples what it means to be a follower of Christ and a child of God.”
Last night, I was reading Reaching Out by Henri Nouwen. He provided another layer of meaning in Jesus’ last words.
When Jesus spoke these words on the cross, total aloneness and full acceptance touched each other. In that moment of complete emptiness all was fulfilled. In that hour of darkness new light was seen. While death was witnessed, life was affirmed. When God’s absence was most loudly expressed, his presence was most profoundly revealed.
It is the ultimate part of the paradox in the mystery. The last will be first, and the first will be last. Through baptism, we die so that we may live. We must empty ourselves in order to be fulfilled. And, as Nouwen wrote, “When God himself in his humanity became part of our most painful experience of God’s absence, he became most present to us.”