“Eli, eli, lema sabachthani.” These are, perhaps, the most haunting words in the entire Sacred Scriptures. Jesus Christ, God made man, hangs upon the Cross and cries out from amidst His torture, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” These words have vexed theologians and believers for centuries. Why does the Son of God cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
The answer to this question goes to the heart of why we commemorate the Lord’s Passion today. Christ’s suffering was not limited to the physical horrors of the Passion: blood seeping from wounds all over His body, ripped open by the stripping of His garments, the crown of thorns still pressing into His head, death by suffocation as He gasped for breath. Christ was fully God, but He was also fully man. “The glory of God,” St. Irenaeus tell us, “is a living man,” and so He experienced, in His human nature, not only the physical suffering of the Crucifixion, but also the human feelings of abandonment and isolation. Christ took on these sufferings too because He desired not only to redeem physical, bodily suffering, but because He wanted to redeem all the pain and suffering that we carry not only in our bodies, but also in our souls.
“Why were these words used,” St. Augustine asks, “if not because we were present there, because the Church is Christ’s Body?” From the Cross, Christ, our God and Savior, saw fit to express the longings and fears of our own hearts: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” We, the great doctor of the Church asserts, were present there. The Church, the Body of Christ, – you and I and everyone who will ever by God’s child through Baptism – was there and suffered with the One Christ on the Cross, so that we, today, across time and space, might also be redeemed.
“For our sake,” St. Paul tells us, “[God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). Do not empty Christ’s Cross of its meaning. If we do not become the righteousness of God, if we do not allow the Lord to transform us by the merits of this His Passion, then why was He made sin for us?
This, my brothers and sisters in Christ, this is why our Lord cried out from the Cross, this is why He desired to take on such gruesome pain and agony: because in the wisdom of God, to suffer is to triumph, and to be crucified is to reign victorious.
The Rev. Royce V. Gregerson
Parish Church of St. Charles Borromeo
Palm Sunday, A.D. MMXVII (9:00 a.m.)