At about three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Matthew 27:46)
Relate: “Keep your head down!” Over and over that thought pounded in his mind as his eyes stung and his lungs burned while gas worked its way past his inadequate mask. Many others had abandoned the trench only to be gunned down immediately. He knew of none who had escaped that way. None were alive in his stretch of the trench. That was not completely true. There was one other man, Edward, who was completely blinded and his dying moans sounded more like the rasping of sandpaper along rough cut wood. He would not last much longer. The gas or the shelling had pretty much taken out everyone else in this trench near Ypres. As darkness settled all Hugh could do was wait. His fate was no longer in his hands. Silence would have reigned if not for those like Edward who were not going quietly into the long sleep. Either the Germans would come and he would be taken prisoner or the Allies, the French or his own British troops would press back and he would be saved. All Hugh could do was wait. While the burning in his eyes and lungs slowly grew worse, he sat back and begged God to just let him die.
To be alone in a trench at the second battle of Ypres during World War One would have been a horrifying experience. The Germans had released hundreds of tons of chlorine across the lines forcing the Allied forces to flee or die. The gas masks at the time were not prepared to handle such an attack and because the chlorine was heavier than the air, as night settled so this gas settled and concentrated in low lying areas… areas like the trenches. Over six thousand, mostly French, troops died of asphyxiation, and far more were partially or totally blinded as the gas burned away their eyes.
The cross also kills by asphyxiation. A nail was pounded into each forearm between the radius and ulna holding stretching his arms out wide. Another nail was driven through his feet to take the bulk of his weight. Jesus would have to push up against these nails to clear his lungs enough to be able to breathe. When the pain became too much or his strength gave way he would settle back against them. Then fluid would begin to fill his lungs. Eventually the need to breathe would force him to push up again enduring horrendous amounts of pain. Over and over again he would do this. Minutes stretched into hours that seemed like eternity as his will to live and physical strength fought against unimaginable pain.
More than all of this, Jesus for the first time, is beginning to experience the consequence of sin. “He who knew no sin became sin for us.” The perfect, holy creator of the universe was taking upon himself every lie, every theft, every cruel word, lustful thought and action, every act of rebellion, the depravity of all of us. As horrific as the physical pain was, it was only a sideshow as Jesus truly understood the wrath of a holy God against evil and the separation we all experience as in our willful sin we walk away from the presence of God. As the darkness descended, Jesus understood what it is to be alone. Abandoned.
React: I try. So hard I try to understand the sacrifice and the pain others have experienced for our freedom. I want to write about Ypres, Champagne, New Chapelle… these battles fought more than one hundred years ago in Belgium and France but no words can adequately express the experience. As men valiantly stood in their trenches for “God and country” (though it was not a religious war, both sides felt they had the moral high ground and that God was on their side) those behind them cheering them on sought ever new and more devious ways to maim and kill and torture. Even when we do not agree with the causes and motivations of a war, we have to respect and appreciate those willing to step into the sacrifice. They are the few willing to die for the many.
How much more is this true with the sacrifice God made on my behalf at the cross. I try. So hard I try to understand the weight of my sin as it bore down on Him. I try to understand the feelings, the pain, the emotions that must have run through His mind and heart as He sacrificed Himself for me… for us. But words cannot express. We will never truly be able to grasp, not even in heaven will we fully understand what it would be like for God to become man… to become sin, because of our rebellion and His great love.
I cannot begin to understand the pain, the suffering, even the abandonment you experienced that dark day. For me. You stood alone and took on yourself the weight of the sin of the world. You took the weight of my sin. Thank You. Those two words do not seem enough but they are all I have. Thank you. Your grace is oh so amazing. I can never adequately express my gratitude. You stood alone… so that I could be with You. Thank you.