Friday, 6 April 2007

"My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?"

It's Good Friday, the darkness before the dawn for the Christian church. The day that the Catholic Church feels most vulnerable, with every tabernacle bare of the Blessed Sacrament and Christ's comforting presence.

After the joy and comfort of the Pesach Seder that marks Maundy Thursday, the altars are stripped bare, the Blessed Sacrament is moved to the altar of repose, and darkness, grief and vulnerability mark the Church until the candle of hope is lit, at the beginning of the Easter Vigil. The Catholic Church embodies these phases beautifully with the Triduum - essentially one liturgy over three days marking each part of the story and the emotions that ensue.

I go to Tenebrae (Latin, "darkness") each morning of the Triduum, which is essentially Matins and Lauds, including the sung Lamentations of Jeremiah, psalms, readings, and an ending sequence that is spine-tingling. On Saturday, the Oratio Jeremiae is sung. It is a beautiful way to begin each day of the Triduum and focus on what lies ahead.

Today, Good Friday, is a day of brutality, grief, silence, numbness - and fear that the light of tomorrow's Easter Vigil may not come. In a superb sermon today, the celebrant spoke of visiting Rwanda, how there are some events that are beyond words, that we must grieve, but offer the action (in Catholic terms, mass) that Jesus has given us: "Take, eat; this is my body, which will be given up for you."

A few weeks ago, my friend Jan and I were discussing Christ's words from the cross, as she was writing some meditations for some Lenten concerts she was organising. "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" took up most of the conversation, as we talked about Jesus' emotions at that moment, and I said, in a flash of intuition:

"Jesus was angry. Jesus was angry at God."

As I listened to today's sermon, that conversation came back to me. We always talk about the grief of Good Friday, and well we should. But why is it that we always avoid the *anger* in those words of Jesus? We say, "See, he felt forsaken, so it's ok for us to feel that way. He's taken it on for us," or we talk about his momentary doubt. But we never talk about what one author calls his "anguished reproach" of God, the fury unleashed in Jesus Christ Superstar's Garden of Gethsemane:

I only want to say
If there is a way
Take this cup away from me
For I don't want to taste its poison
Feel it burn me,
I have changed -
I'm not as sure as when we started
Then I was inspired...
Now I'm sad and tired
Listen, surely I've exceeded
Tried for three years
Seems like thirty
Could you ask as much
From any other man?
Why, why should I die?
Oh, why should I die?
Can you show me now
That I would not be killed in vain?
Show me just a little
Of your omnipresent brain
Show me there's a reason
For your wanting me to die
You're far too keen on where and how
But not so hot on why
Alright I'll die!
Just watch me die!

Many people were shocked by this portrayal of Jesus: we are so often presented with him as going meekly to his slaughter, and how like a lamb going to its shearing, opening not his mouth.

What, we expect this passionate man who had just upset the money changers' tables in the temple to go to his death without opening his mouth? He did, and boy, *how* did he. That anger, that reproach is embodied in "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"

As a society, as a world, we have huge problems with anger: we see its destructive capability - emotionally, physically, globally, and we try to push it away, down into our Shadow, where we don't have to face it, hoping that the pressure of everything on top of it will turn it into some sort of diamond - we'll even take cubic zirconia, thanks very much!

Instead, it blows as explosively and predictably as Old Faithful, the geyser in Yellowstone Park, spraying everyone and everything in its path.

We forget that, as Jesus shows us in JCS's Gethsemane and on the cross, that an open, honest expression of anger can be controlled, *transformative* and often, the mark of an intimate relationship. Beneath Christ's anger lie the very human emotions of doubt, fear, pain, and dare we say it - a sense of betrayal: "I have done everything you asked of me, why *this*?"
And it is Jesus' intimacy with God, His complete trust in God's unconditional love, that allows him to speak so openly of his anger, fear and pain.

We forget that burying anger destroys relationships. What if Christ hadn't expressed his anger and doubt to God? It would have put up a barrier between Him and God, a
s surely as it does in human relationships.

So why can't we face Jesus' anger with God? Perhaps because facing the fact that the Son of God was angry with the Father would force us to face the fact that *we* are angry with God - somewhere, somehow, to some degree. It would make us examine our relationship with God and force us to drop that barrier with God and let our relationship with Him transform us. And that's scary. It's easier to seek the mythical 'perfect' relationship that we imagine Jesus had with God, rather than the full, deep, passionate, authentic relationship He *did* have. It's safer to approach an asymptote than to fully enter into a relationship as our true selves, willing to fall as deeply as it takes to live it properly.

What we must remember is that Jesus expresses his anger from the heart - not to lash out, not to manipulate, not sideways towards someone it isn't really directed at - and that is why it is transformative: his hands and his heart are open, not clenched. He asks questions such as "Would what I've said and done matter anymore?", and uses words such as "sad", "tired" or "forsaken". It's between Him and His Father, and that's where He works it through.

And so, He moves forward, towards acceptance and the greater intimacy with God that is His at Easter, uncertainly at first:

Then I was inspired
Now I'm sad and tired
After all, I've tried for three years
Seems like ninety
Why then am I scared
to finish what I started
What you started
I didn't start it
God thy will is hard
But you hold every card
I will drink your cup of poison
Nail me to your cross and break me
Bleed me, beat me
Kill me, take me now
Before I change my mind

but later, with absolute trust after expressing His anger and sense of abandonment from the cross:

"It is finished. Father, into thine hands I commend my spirit."

May being completely authentic and vulnerable in our relationship with God - from the joy and love to the rage, fear and doubt - give us the courage to do the same.


Anonymous said...

Irim, thank you so much for yet another eloquent and thought-provoking essay. I always thought Jesus was angry too, and I'm glad I'm not the only one to think so.

I've always thought the Church did more harm than good in making 'anger' one of the seven deadlies. Burying anger is something so many of us struggle with - I know stifle anger like no one's business - and labelling all kinds of anger as sins helps no one.


Anonymous said...

So often when we read the Bible or listen to it being read out to us, we forget that Jesus had emotions and would have expressed and used them. Thank goodness for the story about the moneylenders in the temple, for a start. But if not anger, then how many other emotions are not mentioned? Did you ever see mention of Jesus smiling or laughing (This is religion. This is serious. And as I once heard as a child in a priest's homily one Sunday: NEVER EVER laugh in church. It is really wrong. Hmmmmmmmmmm!)

I had not thought of Jesus expressing anger from the cross. It has made me think; but again, what of other emotions he would have expressed. Some would claim that it is not necessary to mention these, and maybe not. But it is worth considering, perhaps?

Anonymous said...

The Gethsemane scene from JCS is my favorite--I've been watching the movie version very year at this time.

I also think that, along with the anger that you pointed out, there was a lot of sadness and frustration in Jesus' cry from the cross. Imagine having the weight of the world's sin dumped on your shoulders...something that none of us can really understand.