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Good Friday A Psalm

Psalm 22

Stephen Riley

“My God, My God, why have you forsaken us?” This deep cry of the psalmist expresses one of humanity’s rawest experiences: abandonment. It reflects our greatest fear and anxiety that we are alone, forgotten, and left to our own devices in the face of the cruel realities of this world.

One does not have to look far to hear echos of this ancient cry. Babies in Syria gasping for air after chemical attacks. Teenage girls from Zambia riding in the back of vans or in the bottom of boats on their way to Ireland to be sold as sex slaves.[1] Boys being kidnapped and taught to use weapons for slaughter at the front lines in Myanmar.[2] Parents in Osage, Iowa; Houston, Texas, and Bronx, New York are wondering where the next meal will come from, while others having to make choices about the long term care of their aging parents.[3]

All the while, many others will simply go about each day wondering if their life is connected with others…if their work is worthwhile…or if their relationships are meaningful.

The psalmist, like someone ripping off a band-aid, forces us to consider the ways we are surrounded by events and issues that feel like “bulls of Bashan,” “wild dogs or horned oxen,” or “companies of evildoers.” We are forced to think about the way these things make “our bones feel out of joint,” “our hearts melt like wax,” or “our tongues stick to the roof of our mouths.” So many things we face, individually or collectively, seem so overwhelming. When we stop to consider them, or when too many of them pile up, it is no wonder that we many feel lost or abandoned. We wonder why it seems there is no rescue, no respite, no hope in some situations.

Unfortunately, many feel that they cannot utter the words of the Psalmist. They may have been taught that as a person of faith they should not question God or feel defeated. This leads to a sense of failure in faith or isolation because of a feeling that it is not ok to feel overwhelmed or forsaken. However, the good news for us is that the in the wisdom of the biblical canon and the Church, laments like Psalm 22 have been included in our regular worship and, most specifically, in one of our highest holy days, Good Friday.

Like most laments, Psalm 22 follows a “v” pattern that begins with a cry to God followed by a complaint about what is wrong in the psalmist’s situation. In this particular psalm, the author finds themselves in a desperate time, surrounded by enemies and pushed to the brink of extinction. Life hangs in the balance. In the normal form of a lament, the cry and complaint is followed by the question to God. However, in Psalm 22, the cry and complaint is interspersed with two sections of remembered praise. In verses 3-5 and 9-11, the psalmist remembers that God is holy and has been the one Israel has turned to for deliverance in the past. This break in the usual form is significant given the seemingly unbearable situation the Psalmist is in. The fluctuation between lament and praise keeps the reader reminded that, though forsakenness is a real experience, the hope of God’s presence is not lost. It is as though the form of the Psalm itself reminds us that in our deepest times of sorrow and our greatest sense of abandonment we are called to remember how we are part of a much larger story. In verses 3-5 the psalmist remembers the larger community’s engagement with God and how all of Israel’s ancestry has called upon God and found help. In verse 9-11, the psalmist then remembers their own journey, how from birth they were cast upon God and how it was God who rescued them even as they were a suckling babe.