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Holy Week Devotional: Friday, April 19

By Matt Walton, Minister for Discipleship

Psalm 22; John 18:1-40; 19:1-37

 The prospect of death is perhaps the ultimate wilderness. Death tests our faith because it calls into question God’s “yes” to life. In considering Christ’s death on Golgotha, our own life’s end, or mourning the loss of a loved one, we face a trial of existential magnitude. Is there hope beyond the grave? Is there life beyond the ending of life? These thoughts put us in a wilderness of limited vision. How can we, in the darkness of the shadow of the cross, live into a vision of life beyond the dark of death? We need one who has gazed into this void and is now fully present with us, even in death.

We who mourn the loss of one we love have asked God, “why?” Why must we grieve? Why this pain? We cannot see beyond the grave, and we long for the presence of those we love. Have you asked this question – why? If God is the God of life, then why death? Can a God who is life itself comprehend the nothingness of non-existence? Can a God of abundance grasp the abandonment of wilderness, the forsakenness of death? If wilderness is the place where God speaks, can God speak a word of life into the void of the ultimate wilderness, of death itself? We ask why – because what we need is life which overcomes and transforms death, not that acquiesces to it. What we need is a God who knows, who has ventured into the wilds of non-existence, into the void of forsakenness, the loss of love and life and presence – and is able to speak into existence from that which is not.

Jesus knows. Mark 15:34 and Matthew 27:46 tell us that Jesus quoted Psalm 22 from the cross – “my God, my God, whyhave you forsaken me?” Father, why must you turn your face from me? Why must I endure the void of non-being, the wilderness of death? Jesus knows the trial of suffering, of grief, of facing death and asking, why?

Jesus sees. Jesus has gazed into the loss of presence, the hurt of abandonment. The intimate communion of the Triune Godhead, which Jesus had always enjoyed as the preexistent Son, is contrasted with the utter abandonment He experiences in the crucifixion when the Father, for the first time in all of eternity, withdraws His presence. In this way, Mark communicates the suffering of the whole Godhead, including the Son and the Father.[1]Jesus experiences in death the voluntary fracturing of the Trinitarian Godhead. Jesus, the one from whom life springs, enters the void of non-being, the ultimate wilderness of death as separation from the Father.

Can we find our way in this wilderness? We can, because Jesus knows. We can, because Jesus sees. We can, because Jesus speaks in this place, this place of unknowing which is transformed to the place of knowing. Wilderness is the place where God speaks. Jesus knows. He knows our pain, our loss, the hard stop of death and its abandon of abundance. Jesus knows. He knows it is precisely in this place of non-being, in this place of silence, in this place of abandonment where the Father speaks eternally. It is here, at the “cross-point of history,”[2]that God is now fully present through Christ to overcome abandonment. It is in this lack, in this void, from this place of wilderness, where God speaks his eternal “yes” to life and calls into being from things that were not (Romans 4:17).

We can find our way in this wilderness because Jesus speaks eternally – He is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). Do you find yourself on the edge of despair? On this Friday, are you weighed down by a death that hovers over you, robbing you of hope? Jesus knows. He is with you, ever and always from the cross-point of history, calling you to join Him in that place of forsakenness that is now eternally the place of presence and of speaking – the place where God declares His “yes” of life to you as the Father said to the Son. 

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” (Psalm 22:1), gives way to, “he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help” (Psalm 22:24).

We ask “why?” God speaks at the cross-point of history – “Sunday is coming.”

 

[1]R. Alan Culpepper, Mark, (Macon: Smyth & Helwys Publishing Incorporated, 2007), 559.

[2]Richard John Neuhaus, Death on a Friday Afternoon: Meditations on the Last Words of Jesus From the Cross, (New York: Basic Books, 2000), 189.


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