Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?
There were solitudes beyond where none shall follow. There were secrets in the inmost and invisible part of that drama that have no symbol in speech; or in any severance of a man from men. Nor is it easy for any words less stark and single-minded than those of the naked narrative even to hint at the horror of exaltation that lifted itself above the hill. Endless expositions have not come to the end of it, or even to the beginning. And if there be any sound that can produce a silence, we may surely be silent about the end and the extremity; when a cry was driven out of that darkness in words dreadfully distinct and dreadfully unintelligible, which man shall never understand in all the eternity they have purchased for him; and for one annihilating instant an abyss that is not for our thoughts had opened up even in the unity of the absolute; and God had been forsaken of God.
Saint Paul wrote, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied” (1 Cor 15:17-19).
And yet this moment, this terrible cry from the agony of the Savior, is a challenge to faith that precedes the Resurrection. Indeed, if there were any truth to the claim that the Gospel’s records of miracles and signs were mere retrojected embellishments, then it’s amazing the synoptic authors took no care to excise this most paradoxical of Christ’s utterances.
“A-HA!” the unbeliever shouts triumphantly. “At the very end, Jesus knew! All his illusions and delusions are stripped away, and he knows himself to be mere mortal speaking to empty air, the God with whom he counted himself equal nowhere to be found, a product of his disturbed imagination!”
This, then, is the edge of the chasm of faith — you leap across or you don’t. Either Jesus was precisely who he said he was (the Son of God, eternally one with the Father) or he’s a mere man … a charlatan or a megalomaniac. And if there hadn’t been a psalmist several centuries before who wrote a song of despair and persecution, we should be in desperate straits indeed.
But there was such a bard, and he left a prophecy amidst his writings. And Jesus, his end drawing nigh, used some of his last breaths to scream out its first line, to reveal himself as the Suffering Servant long foretold:
My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?Why so far from my call for help, from my cries of anguish?My God, I call by day, but you do not answer;by night, but I have no relief.Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;you are the glory of Israel.In you our ancestors trusted;they trusted and you rescued them.To you they cried out and they escaped;in you they trusted and were not disappointed.But I am a worm, hardly human,scorned by everyone, despised by the people.All who see me mock me; they curl their lips and jeer;they shake their heads at me:“You relied on the LORD — let him deliver you;if he loves you, let him rescue you.”Yet you drew me forth from the womb,made me safe at my mother's breast.Upon you I was thrust from the womb;since birth you are my God.Do not stay far from me, for trouble is near,and there is no one to help.Many bulls surround me;fierce bulls of Bashan encircle me.They open their mouths against me,lions that rend and roar.Like water my life drains away;all my bones grow soft.My heart has become like wax,it melts away within me.As dry as a potsherd is my throat;my tongue sticks to my palate;you lay me in the dust of death.Many dogs surround me; a pack of evildoers closes in on me.So wasted are my hands and feetthat I can count all my bones.They stare at me and gloat;they divide my garments among them;for my clothing they cast lots.But you, LORD, do not stay far off;my strength, come quickly to help me.Deliver me from the sword,my forlorn life from the teeth of the dog.Save me from the lion's mouth,my poor life from the horns of wild bulls.Then I will proclaim your name to the assembly;in the community I will praise you:“You who fear the LORD, give praise!All descendants of Jacob, give honor;show reverence, all descendants of Israel!For God has not spurned or disdained the misery of this poor wretch,Did not turn away from me,but heard me when I cried out.I will offer praise in the great assembly;my vows I will fulfill before those who fear him.The poor will eat their fill;those who seek the LORD will offer praise.May your hearts enjoy life forever!”All the ends of the earth will worship and turn to the LORD;All the families of nations will bow low before you.For kingship belongs to the LORD,the ruler over the nations.All who sleep in the earth will bow low before God;All who have gone down into the dust will kneel in homage.And I will live for the LORD;my descendants will serve you.The generation to come will be told of the Lord,that they may proclaim to a people yet unbornthe deliverance you have brought (Ps 22).