Summary: This message was prepared for a community luncheon on Good Friday. It points to the OT adumbration of both the crucifixion of Christ, and His resurrection.
Last night, our parish observed Maundy Thursday, the first of three Holy Week observances relating to the events surrounding Christ’s passion. Maundy Thursday marks the occasion of the last Passover Christ observed with his disciples, as well as the first Eucharist. And, while a Maundy Thursday service has obvious utility in helping us to remember something important, it is, strictly speaking, not so much a memorial as it is a participation in a feast which began 2,000 years ago and which continues down to this very day.
This evening in our parish, along with many others across the land, we will observe an ancient Christian devotion known as the Stations of the Cross. This service, more than Maundy Thursday, has as its purpose to remember something– to remember something in an especially vivid way, in a liturgical way that allows God’s people to unite with one another in an extended act of remembering the cost of their salvation. In preparing for the Stations of the Cross this evening, I noted that this act of communal remembering has become increasing popular among Protestants. I am encouraged by this, for such a powerful and beneficial act of remembering is not the property of any one segment of Christendom. Indeed, it never has been; for since the Reformation, Anglicans and Lutherans, and even some Presbyterians, have never relinquished the conviction that Christianity is pre-eminently a religious faith deeply rooted in the events of history. Our faith is not a mere moral code. It arises from God’s mighty acts of judgment in the same stream of history we inhabit this afternoon here in Waxahachie Texas. We can go around the world – as, perhaps, some of you here have already done, and see the places where Jesus walked. We can walk the Via Dolorosa, just as Christian pilgrims have walked it for centuries. And, we can do so for the very blunt reason that it all really happened, and it all really happened THERE.
If, perchance, you have never participated in the Stations of the Cross, I encourage you to try it this evening in any of the local churches which observe it. That remembrance does not belong to any of them. It belongs to Christians everywhere. And, Mother Church says that remembering the great events of our Faith is like eating your vegetables: It’s Good For You.
Having said that, I want to raise for our consideration a question about remembering that arises when one reflects on a particular detail which surfaces in the gospel record of Christ’s Crucifixion. Both Matthew and Mark note that in the last minutes before Jesus died, he cried out in a loud voice Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani! And, both evangelists note that those who heard this thought that Jesus was calling out for help to the Prophet Elijah.
Ethnic Romans wouldn’t have misunderstood Jesus in that particular way. For one thing, they wouldn’t have had much fluency in Aramaic. Moreover Elijah would be nothing to them, so they would never make the connection the onlookers made between what Jesus said and Elijah. No, the ones who misunderstood Jesus understood Aramaic, and their association with the similar sounding words “Eloi” “Elijah” has the marks of long familiarity.
But, on the other hand, why would the Jewish onlookers mistake what Jesus was saying, even though he said it in a loud voice? Without dwelling on the gory details of death by crucifixion, I think it is not difficult to imagine that what escaped Jesus’ lips on that occasion was fairly well garbled by the physical and psychological effects of the torments he had endured for the previous six hours. As the footnotes or marginal references in your Bibles will remind you, what Jesus was speaking as he spent his last minutes alive on the Cross were the opening words to the 22nd Psalm: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
Clearly, Jesus at that moment was remembering as well, he was remembering the opening words of the 22nd Psalm. But, when we look at that Psalm a marvelous possibility arises. What if it were more than the opening words of the Psalm that Jesus remembered? What if, in his final agony, he were instead reciting to himself the entirety of that Psalm? The Magnificat, which the Virgin Mary composed in her teens, contains dozens of quotations and allusions to the Psalter. It would not be an unusual feat for good Jewish sons to have memorized dozens of Psalms. The memorization of long portions of Scripture, particularly the Psalms of David, was fairly common among pious Jews of the day.
I am passing out to you now the text of Psalm 22, and I would like to point out to you some amazing features of it in light of Jesus explicit reference to it in his last moments on the cross. When you consider all of this psalm, not just its opening lines, and when you read it with the knowledge that it was this psalm that occupied Jesus’ thoughts just prior to his death, I think you will realize that remembering can work backwards, as it were. In devotions like the Stations of the Cross, we remember something in the past. But, when Jesus hung on the cross, what occupied his mind was something from the past to which he clung to sustain him at the climax of a horrific season of torture and death in the present.