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It Wasn't the Nails

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.

Nailed to a cross, bleeding, hurting, mocked, physically suffering for hours, Jesus breaks his silence.

“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

On the cross, dying for the treason of being a Messiah when he was truly so much more. Jesus, in his greatest moment of terror continues to identify with humanity; with us; with you; with me; yes, even with them.

“My God, my God” is the cry of the Psalmist in Psalm 22 often known of the prayer of the “righteous sufferer.” It is the cry of a man. Saints Augustine and Ambrose teach us that, Jesus, in this moment, takes “on the speech of our infirmity.” In this moment of total forsakenness, Jesus chooses “complete identification with our vulnerable humanity.” Jesus felt the “full weight … of forsakenness” that came with “bearing our [human] terrors.” He chose this, for us.

St. Anselm asks cur Deus homo — why did God become man? And while I intentionally stray away from theologies of the exact machinations of our salvation, the Incarnation is assuredly the root of it all. God condescended to become human to save humanity from her voluntary sin. Jesus in his birth to the Blessed Virgin, in his life among the poor and excluded, and, finally, in his shameful death on the cross fully identifies with our condition.

“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

In this human cry, Jesus declares before the Father and all of Heaven that humanity will be fully his. The darkness. The pain. The loneliness. The weakness. The sin. The separation from God. In these hours on the cross, more than any time in his life, Jesus takes on the fullness of humanity. All. Of. It.

As the Christ Hymn of Philippians so clearly proclaimed earlier today, Jesus took on the form of a servant. In total obedience to the Father and to the final ends of humanity, Jesus allows himself to be imprisoned and executed as a traitor by Empire.

“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

This is a cry of a forsaken, weak, broken man. And yet, let us not forget for a moment that Jesus, God the Son, even on the cross, is in complete control of this situation. Saint Augustine taught that God the Son became human exactly when he wanted. He would die, too, precisely when he wanted. Pilot, Herod, the Priests, Caesar, none of these were ever actually in control of Jesus' passion.

Jesus chooses to suffer on the cross for hours. Jesus chooses to continue to identify with the creatures — humans — who condemned him to death and who — save for the Blessed Virgin and St. John — abandoned him at his final moments. Why? Why? What holds Jesus to the cross?

For a white dude in glasses finishing an MDiv at Vanderbilt, I look to an interesting place for the answer to this question; The Mississippi Mass Choir. I don’t know if or where choir director Franklin Williams went to seminary, but I can tell you that the choir’s 1993 album “It Remains to be Seen” contains some of the most profound theology I have encountered over the last many years. It is doxological. It is Trinitarian. It is deeply concerned with a God who chooses to identify with and stand along side suffering humanity. It, to me, is the background track to Holy Week.

“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

Jesus, in prayer to the Father, reveals himself completely. Like the Psalmist, the pain, the scars, the loneliness are all laid bare before the Father. As the only truly righteous sufferer, Jesus experiences darkness and pain undeservedly.

Jesus, as the new Adam, takes our death. Jesus experiences our terror.

From deep in Mississippi, we are called to take “our minds back to a hill called Calvary. Where Jesus died. Paid the price for your sins mine.” Do you know what Jesus did for you? Do you know what Jesus suffered for you? Do you know what pain you placed upon him? And, yet, he remained with us and for us on the cross.

The saints in Mississippi and across all time and space want us to know that, “it wasn’t the spikes that they put in [Jesus'] feat that held him to the cross. It wasn’t the spears that they speared him [with] in the side that held him to the cross. … It wasn’t the nails that they nailed in his hands that held him to the cross. But, when that thief said come down and save yourself, … it was love that held him to the cross. It was love for the prostitute. It was love for the drug addict. It was love for you, you, and you.”

“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

Don’t forget the love that looked hell in the face. Don’t forget the love that experienced terror, lonliness, pain, suffering, complete rejection by family and friends and still said “these bags of dirt are worth it.” Don’t forget love’s forsaken arms stretched wide upon the cross to hold our darkness.

If you, like me, know what he’s done for you, you know how deep God’s love is. A love more powerful than nails, than empire, than shame, or torture. A love so powerful, it recreates us and unites the created forever to the Creator.

Through his identification with us through the Psalmist, Jesus cries from the cross: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but thou dost not answer; and by night, but find no rest. Yet thou art holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. … I will tell of thy name to my brethren; in the midst of the congregation I will praise thee… All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; … and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, that he has wrought it.”

Let the song of Mississippi be in our hearts as we look upon Jesus forsaken upon the cross: “It wasn’t the nails that held him to the cross, … the son gave his life for the taking by men; he had the power to lay it down, he had the power to take it up again. It wasn’t the nails that held him to the cross, … it was love that held him there and that same love covers our sins.”

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.