Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion
April 9, 2017
“Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Mat 27:46)”
Many theologians and ordinary Christians alike are baffled by these words of Jesus on the cross. If Jesus is God, how is it possible for Him to be separated from God? Why does the most compassionate God abandon His beloved Son? It simply does not make any sense. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tries to explain that it is a consequence of sin. Not that Jesus had committed any sin, but He endured the sin of the world on the cross. The greatest effect of sin is separation from God. Thus, carrying the heaviest burden of sin, Jesus could not but feel the chilling effect of alienation from His own Father.
However, for early Christians and Jews who listened to the last words of Jesus on the cross, they understood that Jesus was actually reciting the beginning line of Psalm 22. The tradition considers this as a psalm of lamentation. In fact, the Book of Psalms contains a lot of psalms of lament. Despite its sorrowful nature, this kind of psalm remains true to its form, which is a prayer inspired by the Holy Spirit. Reading closely Psalm 22, we discover that the psalmist tried to express his desperate situation because of the enemies’ assault. The attack was so intense and brutal that he felt that even God abandoned him. Yet, despite the feeling of abandonment, he kept lamenting to God as if He was just near. Indeed, the psalmist was frustrated and complaining, but even this, he turned it into a prayer. Though it was the only prayer he could utter, it was an authentic prayer, without any pretension and pride. This is the paradox: when the psalmist became honest with himself and sufferings, God was closest to him.
In the cross, Jesus felt an excruciating pain both on physical and emotional levels. His triumphal entrance to Jerusalem in which He was welcomed as the King, the Son of David and Prophet, was a jubilant event, yet in a matter of days, many people who had followed Him turned to be His enemies and shouted, “Crucify Him!”. All his great successes as a preacher, teacher and wonder maker, were scattered. He was about to die as a criminal, a shame to Himself and His family. In this extreme sorrow, He decided to pray. Not any prayer, but the prayer that is most fitting to a suffering faithful Jew: a Psalm of Lament. This is the paradox of the cross: He felt abandonment and frustration, but in this prayer, this was the moment Jesus was closest to His Father.
We share also this experience of the cross in our lives. We might face terrible financial situation and uncertainty in our works. We might have health conditions that drain our resources. We might fail in our marriages or friendships. We might just lose our beloved family member. We are misunderstood and accused of wrongdoings we never committed. We might be wronged unjustly. We suddenly lose the works or the ministries we have built on for years. It seems we cannot see any light at the end of the tunnel. Yet, even in the horrifying experiences of the cross, Jesus teaches us to pray. Not any prayer, but a prayer of lamentation, a sincere prayer that expresses deepest desires, angst and pains. It is true that our situations might not change at all, but as we articulate ourselves and our situations, we are helped to find meanings, consolation, and hope. This is the paradox: in the prayer of lament, as we strip our pride and pretentiousness, even when we are in the lowest pit of our lives, God is actually closest to us.
Br. Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP