Holy Week Talk at Lenten Luncheon, by Richard Van Scoyoc – April 11, 1990
Richard Van Scoyoc was a teacher, lifetime member of the Blair County Historical Society, and a beloved member of Christ Community UMC. He lived to be over 100 years old. The following is a speech that he gave at a Lenten Luncheon held by the United Methodist Women.
On Good Friday, we sometimes read the seven last words of Christ on the cross. One of these is a lonely, sad cry of Jesus. In Matthew 27:46 it says: “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice saying, ‘Eli, Eli, sabachthani,’ that is to say “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Jesus is pleading in his pain and anguish – Don’t you care God, he asks, don’t you care, Father?
Jesus quotes from Psalm 22:1 when he makes this plea. The psalm says, “My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me?” David, who wrote this psalm, makes this anguished prayer when his enemies are pursuing him, and now Jesus on the cross feels the same loneliness we all feel when we face death. We feel forsaken.
At the Last Supper, Judas forsook Jesus. He went out and betrayed him to the religious leaders. Judas didn’t care. He abandoned Jesus. Later in the Garden of Gethsemane, the other disciples fled, leaving Jesus alone. Mark 26:56 says, “Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.” Oh yes, Peter and John followed Jesus as he was led away. John even went into the house of Caiaphas, the High Priest, and later came out and brought Peter into the outer court. Nothing more is heard from John that night. Did he defend Jesus to Caiaphas? The Bible is silent about John’s actions until we see him again at the foot of the cross with Mary the mother of Jesus. Peter defended Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane when he struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear, but a few hours later he denied he ever knew Jesus. Peter and John, along with the other disciples forsook Jesus. Jesus was alone in his trial and suffering. His disciples did not have the courage after three years of fellowship with him to stand up or to speak out to defend Jesus, or to die with Jesus.
We live in an uncaring world. Life is cheap. One generation passes away and another generation takes its place with the dead forgotten.
Even Jesus was accused of not caring. Martha said to Jesus as she was preparing a meal for him and his disciples, ( Luke 10:40) “Don’t you care that I must prepare this meal alone while Mary my sister does nothing?” Martha was frustrated. She complained, “Don’t you care, Lord?”
Later, after their brother Lazarus died, both Martha and Mary said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” They implied, “Didn’t you care enough to hurry here? Why did you delay two days in coming?”
The disciples complained to Jesus that he didn’t care whether they drowned or not in a storm on the sea of Galilee. Mark 4:38 – “And Jesus was asleep in the back of the ship on a pillow and they awoke him and said to him, ‘Master, don’t you care that we are about to perish?’”
Most of our cares and anxieties are about earthly problems: Martha, about preparing a meal; the disciples, about a storm at sea. Today we are anxious about our health, our jobs, our families, about crime, war, violent nature, and about drugs. When our prayers are not answered, we feel forsaken. The human Jesus in his pain and loneliness cried out to his Father, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
But Jesus taught that we are never forsaken. Paul said in II Corinthians 4:9, “We are persecuted but not forsaken.” Even if our bodies perish, Jesus cares for our souls. Psalms 142 says, “No man careth for my soul.” Humans may be uncaring about our souls, but Jesus cares enough to die for our salvation.
John 10:13 says, “The hireling fleeth because he is a hireling and careth not for the sheep.” Humans are callous, but Jesus is the great shepherd. He cares. Psalm 9:10 says, “Thou O Lord hast not forsaken those who seek thee.” I Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxieties on Him for he cares about you.” The Heavenly Father did care about Jesus. He raised him form the dead Easter morning, and Jesus promised us that our dead bodies would not be forsaken in the grave. If we trust him we shall rise with new bodies and to a new world.
In Lamentations 1:12 it says, “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Behold and see if there be any sorrow like unto the sorrow which is done unto him.” This is the question for us this Lenten season: “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?” Do we care? There was no sorrow like the sorrow of Jesus who took on the sins of the whole world on his broken and pierced body. Do we care? Do we pass him by? Do we forsake Jesus?
A few cared for Jesus. Simon of Cyrene cared enough to carry Jesus’ cross; Jesus’ mother cared enough to stand by her son at the foot of the cross, in what must have been the most heart-rending experience of her life; John, at the foot of the cross, cared enough to take Mary the mother of Jesus into his home. Some women stood at a distance watching Jesus being crucified. They cared. Some women cared enough to buy spices and ointment to prepare Jesus’ body for burial; Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus cared enough to provide a tomb and bury Jesus; Mary Magdalene and other women cared enough to come early Sunday morning to anoint Jesus’ body with the spices.
Some didn’t care. The soldiers who mocked Jesus and put a crown of thorns on his head; Pilate turned him over to be crucified; Annas and Caiaphas, the high priests, condemned him; Barabbas got his freedom but didn’t care what happened to Jesus; one of the thieves on the cross cursed Jesus; the soldiers who pierced his side claimed his clothing; some of the crowd joked and taunted him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself.”
Some care about Jesus today, but many don’t care. They pass him by as being nothing.
Christians should never feel forsaken. After Jesus prayed “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” he uttered his last words: “Into thy hands I commend my spirit.” Jesus trusted his Father as he passed from life to death. Job said, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him.” Paul said, “We are persecuted but not forsaken.”
We talk about a lonely, isolated places as being a “God-forsaken place.” There is no place on earth that is God forsaken. Psalm 139:9 says, “If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there shall thy right hand lead me.” I experienced that feeling – a lonely grass and dirt airfield far up the Markham Valley in New Guinea, set among high mountains where a strong wind blew down the valley. It was the most desolate place I was ever at – but it was not God-forsaken. God was with me there as sure as He was with me back home in the church. God was with Jesus too on the cross. God will be with you and comfort you in all your trials and troubles. They may not go away, but God’s presence will sustain you. “My grace is sufficient for you,” God says. Into God’s hands we give our worries and troubles, just as Jesus did on the cross.
An old gospel hymn titled “Does Jesus Care?” asks the questions in each of its verses:
Does Jesus care when my heart is pained too deeply for mirth and song; as the burdens press, and the cares distress, and the way grows weary and long?
Does Jesus care when my way is dark with a nameless dread and fear? As the daylight fades into deep night shades, does he care enough to be near?
Does Jesus care when I’ve tried and failed to resist some temptation strong; when for my deep grief I find no relief, though my tears flow all the night long?
Does Jesus care when I’ve said “good-by” to the dearest on earth to me, and my sad heart aches till it nearly breaks—Is it aught to him? Does he see?
And each time the chorus resounds:
O yes he cares; I know he cares, his heart is touched with my grief; when the days are weary, the long nights dreary, I know my Saviour cares.
Rev. Rebecca is an ordained elder serving in the Susquehanna Conference. She serves Christ Community UMC and Llyswen UMC in the Altoona District. She is the author of The United Methodist Church and Disability and Hope for the Broken: Using Writing to Find God's Grace (coming soon from Touch Point Press).