Eli, Eli, la'ma sabach'-tha'ni
My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?
These are the words we hear Jesus praying just moments before he gives up his life for our sake and commends his spirit to the hands of the Father.
Today we begin the Easter Triduum with Holy Thursday. We walk with Jesus through His passion, death, and resurrection. Reflecting on the story of Jesus' passion I was struck by the loneliness of Jesus.
Perhaps I zeroed in on the loneliness of the Passion story because I have been reflecting and pondering loneliness for a few weeks now. I speak with friends who desire marriage but currently experience profound loneliness and wonder if they will ever find someone to marry. I have read through prayer requests of husbands or wives who feel lonely in their marriage. Fellow men discerning the priesthood experience a fear of the possible loneliness of celibacy. All of us experience a sense, at one time or another, that despite our world's "connectedness" we are disconnected. A message can be sent around the world in an instant, and yet in our direct experience, in our relationships and day to day lives, we experience no connection. We are alone and restless. A universal human experience is loneliness, though at different times and to different degrees, none of us can escape the experience.
We can narrow in on the isolation and loneliness of Jesus during his passion and death and recognize we are not alone in our suffering, Jesus knows it well. In the garden, Jesus went off to pray – and His friends fell asleep. After His arrest – his apostles fled. The crowds who had just welcomed him into Jerusalem as king now called for His crucifixion and the release of Barabbas instead. Finally upon the Cross Jesus cries out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
Strangers dismissed him, his friends denied and fled him, and it appeared that God himself had deserted him. Is this not the most profound loneliness possible? In all the cosmos, throughout the entire universe, from all creation seen and unseen, Jesus was alone upon the cross, left to die. Do we not at times feel that strangers abhor us, we have no friends, and even God seems to be absent, and all we can do is await death?
But this is not the end!
When Jesus cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” he was beginning to pray Psalm 22. The Psalm starts out in mourning and despair, but it ends with hope and praise. Psalm 22 goes on to read, “I will tell of your name to my brethren; in the midst of the congregation, I will praise you: You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you sons of Jacob, glorify him, and stand in awe of him, all you sons of Israel! For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; and has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him…The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord!”
Jesus, in his loneliness, pain, and despair, cried out to God. He let his suffering be known, he asked the Father to spare him from the passion he knew was to come. But then he embraced the chalice, took up his cross, remembering the Lord is faithful, laid his life down for others knowing that the cry of the afflicted had been heard, and his death would bring forth resurrection and salvation for the afflicted. God has not hidden his face from the afflicted, for the face of Jesus is the face of God. Through Jesus the bread of life, the afflicted shall eat and be satisfied. Jesus upon the cross in his suffering and loneliness proclaimed that the glory and victory that God promised through Psalm 22 was now at hand. Jesus Christ through his death and resurrection reconciled all of creation, and this cosmic event is happening at every Mass throughout the world, and we enter into it especially during the Easter Triduum.
In our moments, weeks, or years of loneliness, we can grow hopeless and we can despair and grow restless. This is not a pleasant place to be, and we always try to medicate and ease this pain. It is in these moments we often reach out for what Bishop Baron calls "junk food for the soul, wealth, pleasure, honor, or power." We try to medicate with this junk food and it tastes good at first bite, but it leaves us malnourished. In our suffering and unrest, our soul is hungry, but not for junk food, it is hungry for grace, and though we fill our body with junk food, our soul longs for the grace which will nourish it.
At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry when the wedding ran out of wine, he turned water into wine of great quality that would not run out. Later in his ministry, he multiplied five loaves of bread to feed the multitudes and they ate and were satisfied and baskets full of bread were left over. At the last supper, Jesus took wine and bread and transformed them into his body and blood offering them for us, so that we may drink and never go thirsty and eat and never go hungry. Jesus is the one who nourishes our souls.
As we enter this Holy Week I invite you to bring your loneliness to the liturgies. I invite you to experience Jesus’ loneliness and recognize that in your loneliness, whatever it may be, Jesus is there. He knows what you feel, and you are not alone. Do not run from what makes you lonely; do not seek to ease your loneliness with junk food. Stand before that which makes you lonely, show it to God the Father, do not be afraid to cry out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me, where are you?”
But then marked by your Christian hope, cry out your praises to the Lord. Oh Lord, you hear me in my affliction, Lord you do not turn your back from me, you will feed me and I will be satisfied. Stand at the foot of the cross and let the blood and water that pours forth from the side of Christ wash over you, purify, and fill you. His sacrifice has won your salvation, and he is with us always. Encounter him in the Eucharist, and let your soul be fed by grace.