Holy Week is a time when we walk with Jesus during the last days of his life. On Good Friday, we accompany him as he carries the Cross and we watch him as he suffers during his final hours. As we stand under his Cross, we hear his agonizing cry as he addresses his Father: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). How are we to understand some of Jesus’ final words to his Father? How are we to understand Jesus’ cry and enter into it today?
Darkness at the Crucifixion
According to the Gospel of Mark, the death of Jesus occurred after three hours of darkness. It states that “at noon darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which is translated, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Mark 15:33-34).
Only darkness fills the earth during these three hours, during Jesus’ last hours as he approaches death. Even heaven and earth participate in this event. Yet even during this time of extraordinary darkness, God is still present. Darkness has an ambivalent meaning in Scripture. It can represent sin and the presence of evil, but it can also represent the mysterious presence and work of God who can overcome every shadow of darkness. For example, Exodus 20:21 reads, “So the people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the dark cloud where God was.” Jesus is certain that the Father is close to him and accepts His Son’s supreme gift of love.
A Painful Prayer
Jesus’ words are reported first in Aramaic, the language he spoke. We hear the very sounds that Jesus pronounced on the Cross. The loud cry of Jesus reveals his human feelings of abandonment and isolation, but also trust. He uses the opening words of a psalm he had read and recited often to express his feelings: Psalm 22, the Prayer of an Innocent Person. Jesus’ words are a prayer addressed to his Father, using the words of Scripture.
In Psalm 22, the psalmist cries out to God in his suffering; he feels abandoned by Him. In his pain, the psalmist’s prayer has become a cry, lamenting the apparent silence of God. At the same time, he trusts that the Lord will hear him and that He will answer his prayer. The psalmist prays: “My God, I call by day, but you do not answer; by night, but I have no relief. … In you our fathers trusted; they trusted and you rescued them” (Psalm 22:3, 5).
Jesus uses the words of this Psalm to pray to his Father. Jesus is exhausted and suffering unbearable pain. He has been beaten, spit upon, and crowned with thorns. Judas, one of his chosen apostles, has betrayed him for thirty pieces of silver. Peter has denied him and the other disciples have fled. He is mocked by both the Gentiles and his own people. He cries out to his Father but hears only silence. At his Baptism and the Transfiguration, the Father had spoken, revealing that Jesus is His beloved Son. At his crucifixion, He does not speak. As Jesus approaches death, he feels very much alone.
Jesus’ loud cry expresses his feelings of abandonment and isolation, but also his trust in God’s presence. He trusts that the Father still watches him with love and Jesus abandons himself into His hands. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI states:
Uttering the words of the Psalm, Jesus prays at the moment of his ultimate rejection by men, at the moment of abandonment; yet he prays, with the Psalm, in the awareness of God’s presence, even in that hour when he is feeling the human drama of death.
Just like the psalmist, Jesus trusts in God’s closeness. Jesus prays these words in the moment of his deepest suffering and solitude. Yet, like the psalmist, Jesus trusts in God’s closeness and presence, despite His apparent silence. Jesus certainly remembers the end of the Psalm which becomes a hymn of praise and thanksgiving. He remembers the psalmist’s words which announce that the Lord has heard his cry. The psalmist joyfully proclaims, “The generation to come will be told of the Lord, that they may proclaim to a people yet unborn the deliverance you have brought” (Psalm 22:32). Jesus knows that this moment of darkness is temporary and that after the Cross the light of salvation will dawn.
In Relation to Our Lives
This may also happen to each of us. We may face difficult and painful events in our lives. In these moments, it may seem to us that God is silent and does not hear our prayers. On the Cross, Jesus shows us how to approach suffering, how to trust God always, even in the most difficult situations. As Pope St. John Paul II states:
By hearing Jesus pronounce his “why,” we learn indeed that those who suffer can utter this same cry, but with those same dispositions of filial trust and abandonment of which Jesus is the teacher and model. In the “why” of Jesus there is no feeling or resentment leading to rebellion or desperation. There is no semblance of a reproach to the Father, but the expression of the experience of weakness, of solitude, of abandonment to himself, made by Jesus in our place.
On the Cross, Jesus suffers together with us and for us. He shares both our physical and spiritual pain. By Jesus’ actions and words, he shows us to always turn to the Father when we are suffering and to trust that He will never abandon us. God is present and listens to us even in the darkness of heartache and solitude; His loving gaze never turns away from us. He knows our hearts and understands our needs at each moment of our lives.
Let us open our hearts to Him today in our prayers and allow the light of the paschal mystery to fill them with joy. Let us trust that the Risen Christ is always present, even in the darkness.