Abandonment was the most unbearable pain Jesus felt while hanging on the cross
Every year when those ads come on TV to adopt or sponsor abused and rescued animals, I am no match for those mournful puppy-dog eyes and pouting kittens—with Amazing Grace playing in the background, no less. I mutter, “Stop! Here. Just take my money, but don’t show me any more abandoned pets!” I thus make my annual pledge.
I have to admit only 50 percent of my response comes from generosity; the remaining half is from an almost unbearable sense of empathy. I can feel what those poor abused and abandoned creatures feel, so I must do something.
Abandonment is probably the worst emotional experience anyone can suffer. Betrayal hurts, to be sure, but then anger and a need for self-preservation usually spring from those wounds to assuage the pain. Still, abandonment knocks the very ground out from under our feet as we realize the very one we depended on most has forgotten us. We have never felt so utterly alone and vulnerable.
During Lent it is customary to contemplate the Lord’s suffering. While we usually focus on the physical pain that Jesus endured—the scourging, the crown of thorns, the crucifixion—these sufferings pale compared to the terrible emotional trauma he endured: the betrayal by Judas, the denial by Peter, the desertion by most of his disciples.
Yet, the most unbearable of all was the abandonment that Jesus felt while hanging on the cross as he uttered the opening of Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
The God with whom he had so intimately communed on a daily basis now falls inexplicably silent and distant in the hour of Jesus’ greatest need.
Jesus had prophesied that when lifted up on the cross, he’d draw all people to himself. People would recognize in his tortured, broken frame their pitiful human condition. In the same way, a betrayed, crucified and abandoned humanity will recognize Jesus’ cry of abandonment as their own.
God became human in Jesus precisely to experience all life’s trials, not so much to learn what it’s like to be human, for God surely knows, but rather to reveal that even in our darkest situations, God is truly with us. And in that moment, when we realize nothing can separate us from the love of God, we are saved. Just as Psalm 22 begins with abandonment, it later says: “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.”
With his dying breath, Jesus echoed that realization: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” He was thus proclaiming faith in God’s ultimate victory.
From of old God regarded our loneliness and lowliness, and, moved with compassion, God became one of us to be with us and deliver us from every evil. And we whom God has saved must, in turn, be with all our brothers and sisters in their hour of need. But to do this, we must see them as God sees them. With compassion. Feeling what they feel. Suffering what they suffer.
Jesus experiences abandonment so that all who feel abandoned might experience Jesus. Expressing solidarity with all who suffer is truly an amazing grace.
Featured Image: An elderly Christian woman displaced by sectarian violence involving attacks by Islamist extremists rests in a church in Kaya, Burkina Faso. (CNS/Anne Mimault, Reuters)