Christians call it ‘the cry of dereliction’. That terrifying question from the mouth of the crucified Jesus on that first Good Friday. ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me’.
It’s a cry which has echoed down the centuries from the mouths of people and nations who are enduring that unique form of abandonment where even God himself seems absent. Whether in Rwanda or Sudan, the Holocaust itself, or even in the mouths of victims of our own conflict here many know the weight of that desertion.
What light there is available on Good Friday is the light that comes from knowing that at least God knows what it feels like. Though that can sometimes be small comfort.
Later, in his experience of the cross Jesus cries again. This time we are startled by what he says but for other reasons. ‘Into your hands I commit my Spirit’ he says to his father. The same one who had so recently forsaken him. What’s this? Has the depth of sin been plumbed and a reconciliation worked between father and son? I don’t think so. The forsakenness is still real. There is still estrangement.
But based only on what he knew of his father and of how he had acted in the past Jesus commits everything to him, even his death, in faith that God would deal fairly with him. It seems to me that the outcome of this act must have involved a measure of uncertainty. Otherwise it was not faith. Otherwise it was playacting.
Here, in a colossal act of trust, Jesus commits his future to the one who had turned his back. By this cry we now know that God knows what it is to have faith.
Good Friday then is the day to consider these profound truths. The reality and depth of abandonment and the lived experience of so many in this world who can utter that cry today. It is also an opportunity to resolve that though others turn their backs to injustice, we won’t.
And because today is followed by the echoing cavern that is Holy Saturday, when nothing happens, and nothing is said, and we must simply wait and sit on our hands, because tomorrow is Holy Saturday, we shouldn’t be in too much of a rush to celebrate. It is only by enduring the emptiness of Good Friday and the powerlessness of Holy Saturday that we are prepared to receive the joy of Easter Sunday.
We are eager for the celebration of joy on the third day. But it only comes after Friday and Saturday. Till then we must wait.
[BBC Radio Ulster Thought for the Day, first broadcast Friday 6 April 2007]