Sermon Text: Mark 15:33-39. Sermon originally given in German

Two statements:
“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus
“Truly this man was God’s son” The Centurion at the Foot of the Cross

And so we come to the end of the story of the Son of God. Here at the cross.

This week I am finding it difficult to pray. This week I am feeling the absence of God.
In a world where genocide is once again occuring.
In Bucha. In Irpin.
There where hell is reigning.
Men, women and children. Babys. Raped. Their tongues ripped out. Their hands tied. Shot.
All at the hands of ‘normal Russians’ - men who also have wives and children at home.
And these men butcher with enjoyment and joy.

How can a person act in this way?

Toys from murdered children are sent home by post, so that other children can play with them.
And the TV. And shoes and clothes.
A State that intends on the elimination of Ukranians as a people.
The Orthodox Church in Russia that blesses it all in the name of God
That blesses the torture of children.

This week I am finding it difficult to pray.

My God, My God, why have you forsaken us?

A man on the cross. Dying. He too was tortured and now hangs naked. Covered with blood and sweat.
He can’t bat away the flies that swarm around his face.
His friends - his best friends - all left him (the women stayed however - Mark 15:40)
He was humiliated.
People who came past shook their heads.

Is this how the story of the Son of God is to end?
The Son of God who walked on water?
Who multiplied bread and fish?
Who healed people?

The story ends…like this?

It seems that way.

Of course as Christians we know that the story goes on in three days.
But this Friday - that was not clear.

We could say that Jesus in his cry of God-forsakenness is citing Psalm 22
and if we read further in that Psalm
then we come to words of resurrection
the Psalm ends with hope!
And that is true too.
But we shouldn’t jump to the ending too quickly.
Because here is a scene in which hope is not to be easily found.

And that makes the second statement
that of the Centurion
more interesting still

“Truly this man is the Son of God”
That demands the question:
who looks at a dying man - a scene of defeat and hopelessness
and think “yup! Son of God alright!”

And still
that is the Gospel:

God with us.
So much so
that he bears our suffering and pain
Jesus enters into the absence of God
And makes this Godforsakeness his own

And just as the centurion
we are invited
to see the world in a new way
To let our comfortable pictures of God die - to crucify them
in order that we might see God.

The picture of a powerful God, living far away,
untroubled by our problems and recognised in his great deeds of power
and miracles
must die.

The picture of a nationalistic God
who serves the interests of States and Nations and Churches
must die.

And instead
like the Centurion
we are invited to truly see God

God with us
the presence of God in the absence of God
God with us in defeat and weakness and hopelessness

God with us in his death
Just as He is with us at his birth
Not as the great warrior
bringing history to a climax in great deeds of power

God is with us in the senseless death of an inauspicious man
At the far reaches of the Roman Empire
An afterthought for the powerful forces of the world.

God with us
in the torrent of human suffering.

Jesus is the old man shot as he went shopping on a bicycle.
Jesus is the raped woman, who now carries not just the violence of the attack
but the social shame that all victims of sexual violence are made to suffer
Jesus is the six year old child who stands at the graveside of their mother
and cries.

This week I have been reading through James Cone’s “The Cross and the Lynching Tree”
Cone points out: the cross places God in the middle of a crucified people
(here he had the lynching of Blacks in America in mind)
In the middle of a people who were hung, shot and burned.
And, looking towards Ukraine, we can add:
the cross places God in the middle of a people
who are raped, and stolen from,
and driven out of their homes.

God with us
And Jesus prays for these people. And Jesus prays for us.
He prays that which we maybe can’t put into our own words

My God, My God
Why have you forsaken me?

This week I am finding it difficult to pray
Maybe it’s because I also have to learn
that when I am demanding that God steps in
and does great acts of power
then maybe I miss where God already is.
On the cross.
With us.

In the middle of war.
In the cancer diagnosis.
In the loneliness after the divorce
In the financial crisis

This week I read an interview with the rector of the evangelical seminary in Kiev
who himself comes from Bucha.

One of his remarks struck me particularly:

Before the war, my wife and I were reading about the Holocaust—Elie Wiesel’s book. We visited museums in Kyiv and the site of the massacre in Babi Yar. This might sound academic, but it is not. I don’t know how to explain it, but sometimes in God’s silence, I hear his voice. This is a very contradictory statement. But in his absence, I feel his presence.

God with us
in the Godforsakeness
until death
that he defeats death
not through great deeds of power
but through the power of his love and grace

“Truly, this man is the Son of God”