This sermon was preached on Good Friday. After the sermon people were invited to come to the altar rails and leave behind the rock of despair and trouble at the foot of the cross. (Everyone was given a small rock at the door on entry.)
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me. (Mark 15:34)
History is full of times where God seems to have deserted humankind. We know times similar to these ourselves. Times of despair, when we are distraught to the point of collapse, without hope, perhaps feeling as though all is lost. Hell on earth. Godforsaken. We all know something of this, some more than others. But whatever we might feel, because of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, it is simply not, finally, true. There is no hell on earth. There is intense suffering and loss, grief beyond what we can carry. Yes. But Christ suffered godforsakenness so that we can never be actually godforsaken ourselves. Yes, there are times of despair where all is lost. From genocide to loss of family, to exile to becoming a refugee; to poverty, illness, death. You name it. All these and more are times of apparent godforsakenness, joyless times of darkness. Hell on earth. (That's what hell is, utter godforsakenness.)
But when Jesus uttered those words he wasn't just having a (really, really, really) bad day. He was stating a theological fact. God, the one he called Abba-Father, the one who defined Jesus' identity and very life, had deserted him, the Son, on the cross. Jesus was without God. His accusers were right. He was without God, rejected. (Gal 3:13) Godforsaken. This is a deep mystery. But to those who know despair it is a message of hope. God went there before us, so we need never be without God. God will not desert us. Trust God. Jesus underwent utter godforsakenness - hell - for us. Hell, if defined as utter godforsakenness, no longer has sway over us. For where Christ the Son goes, even as godforsaken, there too goes the reconciling power of God, and the power of resurrection. The bond of love between Father and Son could not be defeated.
When we feel bereft, when all has been taken from us, it is hard to hear this truth of the Gospel: God has not deserted us. Christ went there before us, and now God is there waiting for us. Nothing now can separate us from the love of God. All else can be taken from us, indeed even life itself, but God will never be absent.
Let that same Spirit infuse us today. This is not the same as wishfully thinking that everything can be as it was. No, this is the Spirit of resurrection, the resurrection of the deserted. The resurrected Jesus still had nail holes in his wrists. But he was raised.
Soon, I will invite you to take hold of that Spirit of resurrection and come forward with your burdens to the foot of the cross. And there lay down the rock of all that burdens you. Leave it there.
Then, later, come up for communion. Communion with the despair of godforsakenness we see in Jesus, but the resurrection also of the downcast and bereft.