When I close my eyes to pray, I find myself standing alone in the desert outside of Jerusalem. I am looking up at Christ’s body on the Cross. It is dark; the air is still and hot, and the world is silent except for Christ’s agonized, labored breath.
In such a place, I cannot sense the light of Easter just over the horizon. I cannot feel joy at the knowledge of Christ’s coming Resurrection. Instead, I feel grief, loss, and fury. Fury at the seemingly naive hope that any good could come out of such brutal violence. Fury at the idea that the world can only be awakened to injustice by witnessing the pain of the vulnerable. Fury looking at Christ’s broken body, and then at the world today, and seeing no change.
The last year, like so many others, has been filled with brutality and anguish. Military coups and invasions. Overflowing hospitals. Tear gas. Bullets. Hurricanes. Wildfires. When Christ’s suffering is multiplied—magnified—in the bodies of our neighbors, his lamentation at the ninth hour is also magnified. In his fourth word on the Cross, Christ cries out in torment: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).
We cannot grasp all the possible meanings of these words, but one meaning echoes my own grief and anger. At three o’clock in the afternoon, Jesus, in his human suffering, feels abandoned. We see a man who has been denied the smallest measure of comfort; who will die an unjust death, frightened and alone.
But we also see in these words an essential distinction: Christ suffers, but he does not despair. If Christ truly despaired, he would have remained silent. In the act of crying out, of lamentation, there must be hope.
Christ’s words tell us that we need not hide our grief. Instead, we are called to embrace it and to express it. Christ’s words of grief connect him to God the Father, and show how we, in our own grief, can reach out of ourselves. And we are reminded that if God did not grieve for us, and with us, then Christ would not be on the cross in the first place.
As for the anger that accompanies grief, Jesus is a model for that as well. When, during his ministry, is Jesus genuinely furious? His anger appears only when he witnesses injustice being perpetuated not just by hatred, but by apathy and greed. In his cleansing of the Temple, or in his rebuke of the Pharisees, Jesus shows an anger which is not poisonous or spiteful, but which casts the shadows of our shortcomings against the light of what God asks us to become, and which exhorts us to change.
Christ’s pain is not just our redemption, but our call to action—action that cannot wait impatiently for the respite of joy. We must stand in the desert, witness his agony, and realize that this is meant to be the last time we allow hypocrisy and corruption to mutilate a vulnerable body.
God has not forsaken us. Let us not forsake each other.
//Elizabeth Propst ‘23 is a junior at Harvard College in Eliot House studying English and Comparative Religion.