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

At the church where I work, the staff has been forming Holy Week plans for months. A lot has been considered.

We’ve discussed the merits of banners on the front lawn to advertise our Easter services. Personally, I think you could display a banner upside down, and no one would notice.

Cars out on Forest Avenue are zipping by our church at speeds ranging from 35 to 45 mph. At those speeds, I don’t think drivers nor their passengers are paying much attention to a church banner. But, I’m sure the companies who make the banners love the blurred vision of churches.

For the sunrise service, we talk about hospitality. Chairs become part of the discussion. Should we have chairs for this outdoor service or should we go chairless? My guess is no chairs were around at the base of the cross or at the tomb where Jesus rose from the dead. But, we decided to have chairs available, just in case someone has a need.

In the life of the church, Lent and Easter, like Advent and Christmas are significant.

As a lifelong whiner, I wish Easter was on a standard date— like the first Sunday in April.

But of course, I’m assuming that long established ancient church formulas are used for calculating Lent and Easter dates. Clearly, there is no chance of changing a template that has been chiseled into a stone tablet for centuries.

My biggest concern for Sunday’s indoor Easter services are the whims of erratic human thermostats. God and his weather pals in heaven are not making this easy. For example, tonight, Wednesday, April 5, the low in Richmond is forecast to be 67 degrees, Saturday night 39 degrees.

Unlike Christmas, Easter is a tough sell.

Christmas has the joyfulness of the birth of Jesus, and Easter the heart-rending death of Jesus. These are two challenging extremes for pastors to wrestle with in prepping their sermons.

And yet, I wonder if a pastor has ever stood before a congregation at Christmas or Easter, and said, “Hey folks, I have three degrees in theology, I’m 50 years old, and I’ve been preaching the birth and death of Jesus for over twenty years, and in my heart, I’m not sure I really understand these scriptures.”

In truth, at this stage in my so called Christian life, I would find that honesty from a pastor’s heart refreshing, because I’m not sure that I understand either story, especially the death of Jesus.

From Matthew 27:46, I struggle with these words spoken by a disgraced Jesus on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

I think Jesus is asking a fair question.

Right now, somewhere in this world a person is asking the same question of God.

This week, an oncologist told a husband that his wife of a lifetime has three to six months to live. The husband wants to know why God has forsaken this loving couple.

Families in Nashville, Tennessee want to know where God was when their loved ones were gunned down in a school building.

The homeless person asking for assistance at the intersection of Broad and Parham must in some ways feel forsaken. The greater question is— why have I forsaken this person at the intersection?

I wonder how God felt when he heard Jesus ask: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

I imagine those words penetrated God’s soul just like the harshness of the wounds on the body of Jesus.

And you know what else is troubling to me about the death of Jesus is the mentality of his crimeless conviction.

Today, no matter where we look our world is a mess. Our division, our hatred, our fears driven by the quest for power, and the lack of love are troubling.

Despite this messy world, I do find the occasional smidgen of hope when I sense that prayer has worked.

I love the story from a neighbor who tells me how her teenage daughter has found her way as a high school freshman.

At a family gathering, I see the slightest shift in the heart of a frustrated father and his youngest daughter.

I love the servant heart of Ray at a local food pantry. Clearly, life has tested Ray. But on Thursdays when I drop off food, Ray’s energy, compassion, and dedication are inspiring.

Yes, my heart will continued to be troubled by—“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

But maybe I can counter the sting of those words, and the injustice of the cross by never letting go of the hope found in love and prayer.

This Easter, Bill, the grumpiest of whiners, prays that you and your family find hope and love.

The morning of Good Friday, April 7, 2023 (Photo by Bill Pike)

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