Friday, March 29: Good Friday – God Has Been Abandoned for Us

Written by Brian Johnson, Pastor, Haymarket Church, Haymarket, VA

Trees with light coming through. A Voice in the Wilderness

Lamentations 3:1-9, 19-24

I am someone who saw the suffering caused by God’s angry rod.
He drove me away, forced me to walk in darkness, not light.
He turned his hand even against me, over and over again, all day long.

 He wore out my flesh and my skin; he broke my bones.
He besieged me, surrounding me with bitterness and weariness.
He made me live in dark places like those who’ve been dead a long time.

 He walled me in so I couldn’t escape; he made my chains heavy.
Even though I call out and cry for help, he silences my prayer.
He walled in my paths with stonework; he made my routes crooked.

The memory of my suffering and homelessness is bitterness and poison.
I can’t help but remember and am depressed.
I call all this to mind—therefore, I will wait.

 Certainly the faithful love of the Lord hasn’t ended; certainly God’s compassion isn’t through!
They are renewed every morning. Great is your faithfulness.
I think: The Lord is my portion! Therefore, I’ll wait for him.

_______________

The book of Lamentations was written in response to a national tragedy.  Jerusalem had been conquered.  The Temple had been destroyed.  Political and religious leaders – along with many of the elites of society – had been carried off into exile.  Their nation, their religion, their way of life had all been laid to waste.  Those who remained in the land were suffering from political violence, economic catastrophe, national humiliation, and theological crisis (how could God allow such a tragedy to befall God’s chosen people!?).  Things were dark.  They were bad.  God’s people felt as if they had been forsaken.

Lamentations is, as the name suggests, a lament.  It is a book of poetry that cries out to God, grieving over the trauma that has been endured.  It has been, traditionally, attributed to the prophet Jeremiah (though we don’t really know who the author is). 

Lamentations does not have an easy or obvious turn towards hope.  It does not (at least not clearly) say “things are bad, but we know they will get better.”  The pain with which the author is wrestling is too raw, too recent, too real.  These are words written from the depths of darkness and despair.  It is midnight, and there is no sign that dawn will be breaking soon.  The author’s world has been torn to shreds.  All hope seems lost.

This pain – this sense of abandonment – is familiar to us. These words ring true. The moment when the diagnosis comes back and it’s worse than you’d hoped.  The moment when you found out that you’ve lost a loved one.  Broken relationships. Death. Heartbreak. Trauma. Unspeakable tragedies in our communities, our nation, our world.  Many of us, at one point or another, have found ourselves sitting in stunned silence, staring into the dark, unable to imagine how we could ever possibly move forward.

This suffering – the pain voiced by Lamentations – is also familiar to anyone who has ever read the gospels.  These words ring true to the story of Jesus.  Although Lamentations is not directly quoted in the gospels, this sense of unimaginable pain, of dwelling in the darkness – it finds a place at the heart of Jesus’ story.  In the words of the prophet Isaiah, Jesus is “a man acquainted with suffering.”  The story told in the gospels revolves around the cross, on which Jesus is said to have cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (quoting Psalm 22).  It’s hard to imagine what it means for Jesus – who is God with us, God-in-the-flesh – to feel forsaken by God.  And, yet, whatever it means, it certainly has much in common with the absolute desolation experienced by the author of Lamentations.  In Lamentations, the author wrestles with the deepest darkness of suffering and loss, giving voice to a shared human experience of hopelessness.  On the cross, Jesus enters into that shared experience.  On the cross, Jesus joins in our lament.  On the cross, he, too, faces the darkest night, the furthest reaches of human suffering. 

That’s the story we tell during Holy Week – and particularly on Good Friday.  It’s the story for which we spend all of Lent preparing ourselves.  The story is this: God, in Christ, has chosen to suffer with us.  God has seen our suffering, has witnessed the darkness we face, has heard our cries of despair and hopelessness – and God has decided not to abandon us to it.  God has said, “I am with you. I will join you.  I will enter into the darkness with you in order to lead you through to the light.”

On the cross, our God enters into the deepest darkness, the foulest evil, the most painful suffering – and is not defeated by them.  Our God experiences abandonment and despair – and yet remains faithful to us.  Our God is beaten down by violence and hatred – and yet continues to pour out love for us and for the whole world.  Our God has been abandoned.  Our God has experienced the despair to which Lamentations gives voice.  God has faced the worst for our sake.  And, because of that, the pain expressed in Lamentations does not have the final word.  Because God has entered into the depths of our despair, the final word belongs to hope. Because God has suffered death for our sake, the final word belongs to life.  God has gone to the cross for us.  Despair has been transformed into hope.  God knows what it is like to sit in the darkness.  And God is leading us out into marvelous light.  Thanks be to God.

A Voice in the Wilderness: Lent 2024

Find all entries from A Voice in the Wilderness online here: haymarketchurch.org/lent24