The following sermon, which was delivered today (April 9, 2014) in chapel at the LCMS International Center, is adapted from a sermon written by Chaplain William Weedon. The sermon is one of many included in a Lenten series published by Concordia Publishing House (CPH) in 2009 titled Sacred Head, Now Wounded.
How many the wounds we inflicted upon our Savior in His Passion, suffering and death! And yet of all the wounds that our Lord received, none so struck, so terrorized and so weighed on Him as the one we ponder this morning. We did not inflict this one. It came from His Father — the wound of abandonment.
From out of the unspeakable depth of His agony on the cross, our Lord cries the words of Psalm 22:
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
The great Lutheran preacher, O.P. Kretzmann, ponders this cry of agony:
“Suddenly on a Friday afternoon a man was forsaken of God, cut off from the land of the living and the dead, utterly and ultimately alone. … The sudden emptiness in those shadowed eyes … . It was then, much more than afterward, that he died. … You see, this is sin. … It is not merely a matter of murder and adultery and gossip. … Something to do or not to do! … It is always loneliness. … It is cutting yourself off from God. … It is deliberate turning away from truth, from goodness, from heaven. … You see, this is redemption. … All this He took into Himself alone there in the dark. … He became sin for us” (The Pilgrim, CPH 1944, p. 47).
People loved by God, as all the sin of the world is laid upon the Lamb of God, as He owns it as His very own, He experiences in Himself what every one of those sins demands: “Leave me alone, God! Go away! Leave me be!” This is the bitterest dregs of the cup that He will drain down for us in its entirety. He will taste hell. He will taste it for us all. He will know the loneliness so profound that its pain is unutterable for us. How can we begin to understand what it was like for Him in that moment — the eternal Word who had delighted in the Father’s presence before the ages came to be; the eternal Word who took on flesh from the Virgin without ever leaving the presence of His Father; the Word made flesh who lived among us constantly as all men were meant to live: conscious of His Father’s never-failing love and the presence of His guiding hand. And all of this is now withdrawn, and He is alone. All alone.
People joke about hell, saying, “Well, at least I’ll have a lot of company there.” Wrong. Utterly wrong. Think of the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. In that story, the rich man is all alone. Lazarus has angels for company and Abraham to whom he is so close that he lays his head in his bosom. The rich man hungers and thirsts for a human touch.
“Send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.”
But no visit relieves the terror of his solitude. He is alone. All alone. And will be alone forever. You ponder that and you will begin to understand the reality of hell. You ponder that and you will see its true terror. You ponder that and you will bow in love before the Savior whose love for you was so great that He chose to enter that Himself and to endure it in your place that you might be set free from it forever. Never alone. Never again.
Because He endured the wound of abandonment that our every sin demands of God, because He drained the cup down to this, its last and bitterest dregs, you can look to your Savior and pray with the confidence of being heard.
Do you see it now? You will never have to know what He went through in those darkest hours. Not that you won’t suffer. No, He flat out tells you that you will. But you will never have to face life or suffering or death alone. He has made sure of it. He will be with you. He will walk with you every step of the way, and so hell itself is undone, death destroyed, sin forgiven. Your Savior, your Shepherd, He attends you through the valley of the shadow of death so that you fear no evil, for you are not alone, but He is with you. His rod and His staff, they comfort you. He brings you out from that darkest of valleys into the sunshine and the bright light of the day that never ends in the Kingdom of your Father.
Let’s let O.P. Kretzmann have the final words on this meditation on the wound of abandonment:
“Above His ‘Eli, Eli’ was the sound of tearing veils, of falling walls, of the glad crying of those who now had a home again after the long loneliness of sin. … They would continue to wander, groping, stumbling, falling, in all the black ways which man will walk when they turn away from God. … But there was a way back now, beyond Jerusalem and beyond thought and hope to the place where the open arms of the cross had become the gates of heaven” (The Pilgrim, p. 47).
LCMS International Center chaplain