This is such a richly textured psalm, densely packed with all kinds of imagery, depicting a plethora of emotional experience, and provoking in me a vast range of emotions. It feels too much to unpack (and it is!); it feels too raw for me to want to sit with it for long.
God, God . . . my God!
Why did you dump me
miles from nowhere?
Doubled up with pain, I call to God
all the day long. No answer. Nothing.
I keep at it all night, tossing and turning.
(Psalm 22.1-2 The Message)
This is a song-cry of anguish from one with years of faith experience behind them, who at the moment of writing finds themselves isolated and in all kinds of pain, desperate to convince themselves of the holy reliability of God and the certainty of faith.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
(Psalm 22.1 NRSV)
So many of these verses have phrases that writers down the centuries have plundered, using them to telescope time and show how God is there with the poet then, as much as God is present with this writer now. Even the very structure of this psalm yo-yo’s between ‘I’ verses and ‘Yet You’ verses.
All of the Gospel makers draw on this psalm in one way or another in depicting their Crucifixion stories: the focus of this lean feast day today. For instance, hear the mocking voices of onlookers at the foot of the cross:
Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver –
let him rescue the one in whom he delights
(Psalm 22.8 NRSV)
Or hear the soldiers taunts who tacked up the notice of the charge, ’This is Jesus, King of the Jews’ (Matthew 27.37) and see their behaviour as they exercised their dominant religious and political power, in this:
They stare and gloat at me;
they divide my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots.
(Psalm 22.17-18 NRSV)
It seems to me this psalmist is intimate with chronic illness, and with the physical effects that extended psychological and emotional stress can manifest:
I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast;
my mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
(Psalm 22.14-15 NRSV)
And yet… the psalmist forces out a testimony to God’s faithfulness that I can adopt as my own:
I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you …
stand in awe of him …
For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted;
he did not hide his face rom me,
but heard when I cried to him.
(Psalm 22.22-24 NRSV)
Yes. I too, can look over my life and see some clear places where I would not be here now if it were not for the Grace of God, if it were not for those precious seconds out of a lifetime where I felt God’s face turn towards me and even the very marrow of my bones knew that God saw my pain, understood and offered me my next healing breath.
Through his testimony this psalmist moves from being bound up in his own suffering, to seeing that of his community, the members of his congregation. And as she talks of God’s steadfast love, God takes her ‘praise-life’ song and lifts it up so that the poet’s voice rebounds down the years. He could be talking directly into our pandemic situation now:
From the four corners of the earth
people are coming to their senses,
are running back to God.
are falling on their faces before him.
God has taken charge;
from now on he has the last word.
All the power-mongers are before him
All the poor and powerless, too
Along with those who never got it together
Our children and their children
will get in on this
As the word is passed along
from parent to child.
Babies not yet conceived
will hear the good news—
that God does what he says.
(Psalm 22.27-31 The Message)
God does what God says God will do: there is no distinction between who God is and what God does; this is the poiesis of God, where word and deed and being meet. And so as this psalmist utters a parting triumphant flourish ‘saying he has done it’ (Psalm 22.31 NRSV), so Jesus can say from his cross:
it is finished.
(John 19.30 NRSV)
and mean that the shaping of a genesis week from the chaos of my life is just beginning.
entwined into God’s finishing. (iPhone image)