We could begin our reflections for Good Friday in the Garden of Gethsemane. In that garden that Jesus of Nazareth makes his decision. There, he embraces his Passion, cries out to his father about the reality of it. At this moment of anguish, as he faces the suffering that he knows lies ahead, he cries out his truth to his Father.
‘Abba,* Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.’ (Mark 14:36)
Jesus calls God “Abba”, indicating the closeness of their relationship. And to that Abba, Father, he cries out in fear. “Remove this cup from me,” he says. And then Jesus dedicates himself to that Father’s will – “not what you want but what I want” – Jesus’ faith at this moment in the Garden of Gethsemane – this faith spoken in the closeness of the relationship between God the Father and his Son – this is the faith on which the redemption of creation is born.
And so Jesus embraces the way of the cross, abandoned by all who had walked with him, found life in his company. We could spend time as we approach Good Friday with two of the things that Jesus says on the cross, two of his “Last Words” – for these two sayings seem to me to point to the essence of what God does here, and what it might mean when we talk about the cross as “taking away the sins of the world”.
One of the most ghastly things about the accounts of Jesus’ death on the cross is his cry of dereliction.
When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land* until three in the afternoon. 34At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’* (Mark 15:33-34)
We might have some glimpse of what this means if we imagine who it is, what it is, that gives us our sense of who we are. Who loves us, loved us most, our mother, father? Our dearest partner, husband, wife. A friend. A vocation. A place. A church building and worship and community. Our prayers. Remember what it is, who it is, that most defines us, and imagine that taken away. Imagine crying out for it, for them, for that place destroyed. And imagine facing your darkest hour, imagine dying, so abandoned. Wondering who you are without them.
That, I think, is what Jesus endures. That is what his cry tells us. The God, the Father to whom he was so very close, has gone.
And so when Jesus is stripped, what he is stripped of is his identity; when he is mocked, it is his intimacy with his Father that is mocked; when he has a crown of thorns placed upon his head, the kingdom that he proclaimed as he began his ministry seems to have been shown a farce. That is what becomes of him; it is to that which he is reduced when he dies. And what really matters is that it was in that abandoned and utterly human state that Jesus speaks the second “Last Word” which we could ponder.
But before we think a little about a second of Jesus’ words as he dies on the cross, we need to say something about his sense that God has abandoned him.
When we hear of Jesus dying so bereft, I think that we cannot help but find ourselves wondering a little about the one who is doing the abandoning. We cannot but wonder a little about just exactly where the Father is, as the Son cries out for him. We need to have some insight into what is happening in the life of God, when the Son cries out in desperation at the absence of the Father. And what some theologians would have us understand is happening in the life of God is anguish. Anguish is everywhere in the life of God, as Jesus dies on the cross. The intimacy that sustained the Father and the Son is broken. As the theologian Jurgen Moltmann writes in his book The Crucified God,
In the surrender of the Son the Father also surrenders himself …The Father who abandons him and delivers him up suffers the death of the Son in the infinite grief of love. …The Son suffers dying, the Father suffers the death of the Son. The grief of the Father is just as important as the death of the Son…The deep community of will between Jesus and his God and Father is now expressed precisely at the point of their deepest separation in the godforsaken and accursed death of Jesus on the cross.
Anguish everywhere in the life of God. That is what is going on here.
And so in this abandoned, utterly diminished state, we find Jesus living just a little longer. Breathing just a few more breaths. And saying just a few more words. And in those final words we find what it might mean to say that Jesus’ death takes away the sins of the world.
Jesus has alongside him two common criminals, and Jesus has before him the ones who have stripped him and mocked him and nailed him to his cross. And he looks at those men and with a few of his last breaths he says these words:
“Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing”.(Luke 23:34)
He loves them. Jesus loves sinners. He looks with compassion on them. All through his life he has made it very clear that he loves ordinary people who bungle things, petty people who make mistakes. He loves selfish people who cannot do any more with their lives than cling onto their own survival. And that deep love is truly very wonderful, when he is well and sustained by the close sense of his Father’s presence. But here on the cross. Here he senses that Father gone. And here he senses his very mission destroyed. On the cross, he has nothing but a broken body and a few last breaths. And still he loves sinners. Still Jesus loves the ones who stand before him, the ones who have broken him and destroyed his hope. On the cross, Jesus gives the one thing he can give and that is his forgiveness.
And then he dies.
Small wonder that shock waves goes through creation and the veil of the temple is torn in two and reveals who God is.
This is who God is.
 Jurgen Moltmann The Crucified God SCM Classics, 1974, pp251-2.
Revd Jenny Wilson, Canon Precentor, St Peter’s Cathedral, Adelaide.
One thought on “This Is Who God Is. A Good Friday Reflection”
I’ve alwats found this text difficult and a possible reason for religious doubt about who Jesus is. How can God incarnate be andoned by God, or feel himself so? But you have another perspective on tit, which I find very helpful. Perhaps the agony in the garden reflects no simply the fear of pain, shame and death, but of abandonment by the Father or feelings of it.