Jesus Forsaken on the Cross and in Those Who Suffer Today
152 years ago on this very date, an important event in our US history took place about 250 miles from here. Believe it or not, it was a Palm Sunday, April 9, 1865, when Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant, General of the Union Army, at the McLean house in Appomattox, Virginia. This surrender ended the bloodiest war ever fought on American soil. State against state, brother against brother, it was a conflict that literally tore the nation apart. Five days later, on Good Friday, April 14, 1865, arguably America’s most revered president, Abraham Lincoln, was shot and mortally wounded. It was Lincoln who wrote the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation that ended slavery in the U.S. forever. On Palm Sunday the war ended: Triumph. On Good Friday, Abraham Lincoln became the first U.S. president to be assassinated: Tragedy. And our nation was not divided into two or more, but remained the United States of America. The process of resurrection began. Welcome to Holy Week. Welcome to the triumph and the tragedy of the six days preceding Easter.
Today’s bittersweet liturgy teaches us that the Lord has not saved us by His triumphal entry or by means of powerful miracles. The Apostle Paul, in the second reading, which is a great hymn to honor Jesus Christ, uses two verbs that are significant: Jesus “emptied” and “humbled” Himself (KENOSIS). These two verbs show the boundlessness of God’s love for us. Jesus emptied Himself: He did not cling to the glory/greatness/power that was His as the Son of God, but became the Son of man in order to be in solidarity with us sinners in all things; yet He was without sin. Even more, He lived among us in “the condition of a servant”; not of a king or a prince, but of a servant. Therefore, He humbled Himself, and the abyss of His humiliation, as Holy Week shows us, seems to be bottomless.
The humiliation of Jesus reaches its utmost in the Passion: the hour of death on the cross arrives, that most painful form of shame reserved for traitors, slaves and the worst kind of criminals. But isolation, mockery and physical pain are not yet the full extent of His deprivation. To be totally in solidarity with us, He also experiences on the Cross the mysterious abandonment of the Father. It is a spiritual pain. In His abandonment, he cries out psalm 22: MY GOD MY GOD WHY HAVE YOU ABANDONED ME? He who was ONE with the Father now feels the same human separation from the source of LOVE that we ourselves are capable of feeling.
God’s way of acting may seem so far removed from our own, that He was annihilated for our sake. By humbling Himself, Jesus invites us to walk on His path.
He had spoken clearly of this to his disciples: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mt 16:24). Jesus never promised honor and success or greatness. The Gospels make this clear. He had always warned his friends that this was to be his path, and that the final victory would be achieved through the passion and the cross. All this holds true for us too. Let us ask for the grace to follow Jesus faithfully, not in words but in deeds. Let us also ask for the patience to carry our own cross, not to refuse it or set it aside, but rather, in looking to him, to take it up and to carry it daily.
He does not ask us to contemplate him only in pictures or upon the crucifix. No. He is present in our many brothers and sisters who today endure sufferings like his own: they suffer from slave labor and the sex trade, from family tragedies, from physical, sexual or emotional abuse and from diseases, and natural disasters… They suffer from wars and chemical attacks and terrorism, from interests that are armed and ready to strike. Women and men who are cheated, violated in their dignity, discarded… Jesus Forsaken is in them, in each of them, and, with marred features and broken voice, he asks to be looked in the eye, to be acknowledged, to be loved.