The Psalm of the Cross
Here we are at Holy Week nearing the end of our Lenten Journey. Jesus has been our guide throughout the weeks as we read, studied and learned how to write a prayer based on the Sunday Psalm each week of Lent. On this last Sunday of Lent known as Passion or Palm Sunday, we, the followers of Jesus, will take a step back as Jesus steps forward to become front and centre leading us to Good Friday, where the Lenten Journey will end. He accompanied us when we began the journey on Ash Wednesday and now we accompany him during Holy Week. If you have the opportunity to read the gospel accounts of Holy Week, you might discover the three-chord threads of watch, wait and pray.
This is how Charles Spurgeon, one of England’s greatest preachers of the 19th Century, speaks of the Psalm for this week, Psalm 22.
“This is beyond all others THE PSALM OF THE CROSS. It may have been actually repeated word by word by our Lord when hanging on the tree; it would be too bold to say that it was so, but even a casual reader may see that it might have been. It begins with, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" and ends, according to some, in the original with "It is finished." For plaintive expressions uprising from unutterable depths of woe we may say of this psalm, "there is none like it." It is the photograph of our Lord's saddest hours, the record of his dying words, the lachrymatory (A small vessel found in ancient tombs, thought to hold tears) of his last tears, the memorial of his expiring joys. David and his afflictions may be here in a very modified sense, but, as the star is concealed by the light of the sun, he who sees Jesus will probably neither see nor care to see David. Before us we have a description both of the darkness and of the glory of the cross, the sufferings of Christ and the glory which shall follow. Oh for grace to draw near and see this great sight! We should read reverently, putting off our shoes from off our feet, as Moses did at the burning bush, for if there be holy ground anywhere in Scripture it is in this psalm.”
Our focus this week will be on Psalm 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, & 23-24, but I think it would give us greater insight is we had a brief overview of the complete Psalm. This Psalm was written by David. Jesus, in his humanity, will breathe new life into these words as he is nailed to the Cross on Good Friday, and as he utters the words penned by David many years before, we get a glimpse of the immensity of his suffering and how he relied heavily on the words of this Psalm throughout this ordeal.
There are five divisions of this personal Psalm of David that was written after a very difficult time in his life. He wrote the words and entrusted the chief musician to compose the music named the “Morning Hind.” A hind is a female deer.
Psalm 22:1-5 - David experiences excruciating suffering, whether from an illness or from an injury is not known.
Psalm 22:6-12 - In the midst of his suffering people are wondering why Yahweh is not delivering him and there is this unspoken judgment that he might have hidden sins and this is his punishment. This is similar to how Job felt when he lost all his possessions. His friends accused him of hidden sins. These accusations affected his emotional health.
Psalm 22:12-21 - David’s life deteriorates and it seems like he is going from bad to worse. In these helpless moments he is surrounded by powerful sources who want to destroy him while he is at his lowest.
Psalm 22:22-25 - These verses reflect how Yahweh will bring him through to the other side of his time of suffering. Yahweh will heed his cry for help and will deliver him out of all his troubles and defeat his enemies.
Psalm 22:26-31 - He is now back on his feet, so to speak, and he shares a testimony in the presence of the congregation telling them all that Yahweh has done for him, assuring them that Yahweh will be there for them as well.
This Psalm can be summarized in two sentences: Suffering is part of everyone’s life at some point but we can know that Yahweh is near. Call to Yahweh and he will answer and bring you though. Please remember to praise Yahweh with a song of thanksgiving in private and in the congregation of the Beloved.
In Matthew 27:39-44, we learned that Jesus experience taunting from the crowd of people that witnessed his crucifixion. The religious leaders were most vocal as they questioned his declaration that he was God’s Son. If Jesus was truly God’s Son, why was he suffering? Passers-by sarcastically responded that if he was truly God’s Son, then where was God? Psalm 22:1 opens with the cry of David in the moment he felt forsaken and abandoned by God. Now Jesus, in his humanity, and in this helpless state, will focus his mind not on the rhetorical questions hurled at him by the crowd, but on David’s response found in Psalm 22:9, my emphasis: “But Yahweh you brought me out of the womb when I was most helpless. You cared for me then, you can care for me now.” Focusing his mind on the words of this verse helped him to endure the taunting.
What a sight to behold when David looked at his emaciated body as his skin was so loose that he could count his bones. Now, watch as Jesus is on the cross that first Good Friday. Death on a cross was a slow and painful death. The victim was nailed to a wooden cross, stripped naked and left to hang there, humiliated. Frequently, the legs of the victim were broken or shattered in order to hasten their death.
In John 19:31-37, the author states that none of Jesus’ bones were broken because by the time the Roman soldiers came to check on Jesus, he had already died and it caused John to remind us that when Moses was giving the instructions to the Children of Israel about how to prepare the Passover Lamb, they were told specifically not to break any of the bones on the lamb. (See Exodus 12:46) Years later the writers of the New Testament will see that David’s words were prophetically spoken about Jesus who is our Passover Lamb.
Crucifixion stripped the victim of all clothing and when the Roman soldiers saw Jesus’ expensive, seamless garment they had a lottery draw to determine the new owner. The rest of his clothing they shared among themselves. Having lost weight and looking gaunt, David also had experienced people stealing his expensive clothes and sharing them amongst themselves.
I would like us to pause and look at what is taking place in front of us as we accompany Jesus on Good Friday. Where are your eyes at this moment? Are you admiring the beautiful seamless garment wishing you could put a bid in for it? Or have you joined the crowd staring at Jesus’ naked body hanging on the cross and then quickly looking away because the sight is horrible to behold? What are you feeling for Jesus at this moment as you pause to imagine that day? This is Holy Week and we do have the opportunity to accompany Jesus and stay with him to the end.
This week, Holy Week, was really why Jesus came, born as a helpless baby in human flesh, schooled in the words of the Old Testament and hung upon cross. He is able to use the words of David’s Psalm to help him in his suffering. We often want God to take away suffering from our lives and from the lives of the people we love, but Yahweh will not. Yahweh is present with us in the suffering and will bring us through the suffering to the other side of healing. As Jesus hangs naked on the cross, not for his own sins, but for the sins of all of humanity the question to be answered is, “Why is he there?” He is there because the first family, Adam and Eve, created in the Divine Family’s image and place in a beautiful home, were distracted from meeting the Divine Family for fellowship and instead found themselves listening to an Intruder in their home. By the time the Intruder left, they were confused, disoriented and naked far away from the Divine Family not knowing how to find them. Thankfully, it is the Divine Family that went looking for them calling out their names till they were found.
At that very moment the Divine Family promised that one day a son born of humanity would pay the price to redeem humanity, so that humanity could again be in sweet fellowship with the them. The Roman soldiers gambled for Jesus’ prized possession of a seamless coat and he was left naked. But with our eyes wide open we can see that Jesus is dying in our place and our stead so that we can be clothed with the Divine Family’s righteousness.
“But don’t be far off, Yahweh. You are my help. Hurry to help me. Deliver my soul from the sword my precious life from the power of the dogs.” When David looked around at all that was happening to him, his skin and boney body, his expensive clothing stolen from right under his nose, he made the choice that he would turn his attention to Yahweh and call out in prayer asking that Yahweh not be far away and to hasten to his rescue. He is now surrounded by enemies on every side and he cannot see a way out nor how he can escape without the help of Yahweh. When we think of the musical title given to this Psalm of morning hind, and a hind being a female deer, we might use our imagination to see a deer running for her life across the hills and then stopping to look around finding herself surrounded by enemies ready to devour her with no way of escape.
Much warfare took place in the silence of Good Friday evening, all day on Holy Saturday till early on Easter Sunday morning. David lived to proclaim victory over his suffering and over his enemies and reassured the Congregation of the Beloved that Yahweh never hides his face or closes his ear from us, and when we cry out for help, he always comes to our aid. Psalm 22 began with the somber words that Jesus cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This Psalm ends with the assurance that we will have suffering, we will at times feel forsaken by God and our enemies will take that as an opportunity to destroy us, but we need not fear. Just call out to Yahweh and he will come and rescue us because we are his Beloved.
St. Ephrem’s Prayer
O Lord and Master of my life
remove from me the spirit of sadness, despair,
thirst for power and vain talk.
Instead, grant me, Your servant,
the spirit of prudence, humility, patience and love.
Indeed, O Lord and King,
grant that I see my own sins and not judge my sister and brother,
for You are blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.