The Last Words of Jesus: Psalm 22, part VIII

From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.

22 I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters;

    in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:

23 You who fear the Lord, praise him!

    All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him;

    stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! 

24 For he did not despise or abhor

    the affliction of the afflicted;

he did not hide his face from me,

    but heard when I cried to him.

The darkness of Good Friday carries us to the stillness of Holy Saturday where we rest and wait.  But we don’t have to wait too long…the dawning sun and explosive power of Easter Sunday breaks the silence of Holy Saturday.  Verse 21 begins with a plea: “Save me!”  And ends with an answer: “you have rescued me.”

On Easter Sunday, Jesus launches up with praise!  Easter Sunday includes my favorite greeting, “Christ is risen!”  “He is risen indeed!”  The triumph. The celebration.  The praise.  The energy.  The call and answer form a circle of “alleluias” that spirals from the preacher to the people to the streets and sidewalks outside.

There is a great crescendo of praise that still hasn’t reached its peaked.  The ripples of praise continue from “my brothers and sisters” to “the midst of the congregation”.  Praise, glory, and awe are due to God who delivers.

The women who come to the tomb on the first Easter morning make waves in history when they report the resurrection to the disciples.  These first apostles carry Christ’s praise from the tomb to the upper room and all the way around the world.  The men don’t believe the women, but they’re undaunted.  “I have seen the Lord!” Mary declares.  After the resurrection, Jesus appears to his disciples and tells them, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

All of Jesus’ life has been in witness to the Father’s great love and will for the world.  Doxology was the tune to which he lived, and died, and rose again.  Our praise of the Father is always Christ’s praise in us through the Spirit.  We are caught up in the dynamic love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit where we learn to praise, glorify, stand in awe, and tell of God’s wondrous name.

"Holy Trinity" is located in the Dominican church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence.  IT depicts the Father supporting the Son on the Cross with the Holy Spirit appearing in dovelike form between the Father and Son.

“Holy Trinity” is located in the Dominican church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence. IT depicts the Father supporting the Son on the Cross with the Holy Spirit appearing in dovelike form between the Father and Son.

The praise and good news of these verses culminate in verse 24: “He did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.”  Too often we only hear the first half of the first verse of this psalm and believe God is content to turn a deaf ear on Jesus’ cry and look away from his suffering on the cross.  And we regrettably believe if God can look the other way with Jesus, God might act the same way toward us.  So in in our own darkness and pain, we accept aloneness.

BUT, you have to read the psalm to it’s end.  God does not hide God’s face from Jesus’ pain or agony.  God is not a dispassionate observer, but looks on and suffers with the Son.  And God looks on with grief and sadness at our suffering too.

The recent film Selma shows Martin Luther King, Jr. consoling the grandfather of the murdered Jimmie Lee Jackson.  King says to the grieving grandfather, “God was the first to cry.”  Whether King actually said those words or not, they ring true.

Suffering does not negate Gods’ love, and God’s love does not preclude suffering.  The good news, though, is the cross cannot undo the eternal love of the Trinity.  Maybe Paul had this in mind when he said nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39).  And in Christ, love and life have conquered violence and death once and for all.

 

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The Last Words of Jesus: Psalm 22, part VII

19 But you, O Lord, do not be far away!

    O my help, come quickly to my aid!

20 Deliver my soul from the sword,

    my life from the power of the dog!

21     Save me from the mouth of the lion!

“Come quickly to my aid!” How do we measure time? Quick aid might have meant an immediate rescue mission. Something like saving himself, as the mockers suggest, or another moment of divine transfiguration right then and there.

On Friday it seems that all has been lost. The last word is a loud cry. “My God, my God…come quickly to my aid!”  Exclamations are answered with silence.

Friday’s cries are met with Saturday’s stillness.

On Holy Saturday, we wait. It is the Sabbath. We are supposed to remember the Lord. Jews would welcome the Sabbath by lighting two candles, one remembering God’s creation and rest; the other God’s deliverance from Egypt, that they are not slaves any longer.

The urgent cry of the cross echoes in our minds. What was that day like? The normalcy of the day after a loved one’s death seems insensitive to the fact that the day before the whole world changed.  On the other hand, things like fixing coffee, reading a morning devotion, resting with your family on the sabbath, this is solid ground.  Somewhere to stand.  Somewhere to kneel.  Somewhere to wait.

From down in the dust of death and inside the sealed up tomb, something world-changing is getting ready to burst forth.  And it doesn’t require our help.  In God’s mercy, we are given the gift of Holy Saturday as a reminder that no amount of our worry, or work, or busy-ness can raise Jesus and save the world.  That’s for God to do.  So today, we thank God for rest and stillness, for Sabbath.  We wait and trust God.

 

 

The Last Words of Jesus: Psalm 22, part VI

16 For dogs are all around me;

    a company of evildoers encircles me.

My hands and feet have shriveled;

17 I can count all my bones.

They stare and gloat over me;

18 they divide my clothes among themselves,

    and for my clothing they cast lots.

Darkness covered the whole land from noon until three in the afternoon.  At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice.  The temple curtain was torn in two, from top to bottom.  And the centurion underneath, seeing how Jesus died, confessed, “This man was God’s Son.”

John saw the soldiers gambling under the foot of the cross and remembered these verses from the psalm.  Like Judas, and the beatings, and the cross, it had to be this way.  The scriptures said it would.

mantegna_detail

 In Lloyd Douglass’ The Robe, we meet the soldiers who gambled under the cross. The leaders of the soldiers have to get drunk in order to perform their duties because they knew how awful it would be, a task no sober person could complete.

We are pretty well practiced at picturing the disciples, Jesus’ mother, and Mary Magdalene, and witnessing the cross from their perspective.  But the rest are mere caricatures—the Pharisees, the soldiers, the Jews. Douglass personalizes the matter.  We meet the Tribune wins Jesus’ robe, the seamless garment, a treasure of Galilean homespun.

The robe haunts him and his slave, and drives them to learn more about this anonymous Jew whom they had crucified, who went to death so willingly, with such courage and compassion.

The novel does make me wonder what happened to the soldier who won Jesus’ robe.  Where did he keep it?  What did he do with it?  How did it affect him?  I wonder if it was the same robe the woman with the bleeding problem had touched and been healed.  Did it have stains from food spilled during any one of Jesus’ meals with sinners and tax collectors?  I wonder what it would have been like to hold that robe in your hands.  Jesus’ robe was won by dice.  It hadn’t been handed on like Elijah’s.  But did it still have power?

Jesus sees the soldiers under his cross.  How does he see them?  How does he see the people who stare and gloat?  What do Jesus’ eyes say to you?

I wonder what happened to that centurion.  And the rest of the crowd.

On Good Friday, we’re left in wonder.

The Last Words of Jesus: Psalm 22, part V

11 Do not be far from me,

    for trouble is near

    and there is no one to help.

12 Many bulls encircle me,

    strong bulls of Bashan surround me;

13 they open wide their mouths at me,

    like a ravening and roaring lion.

14 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;

15 my mouth is dried up like a potsherd,

    and my tongue sticks to my jaws;

    you lay me in the dust of death.

The words of a poet are often times more powerful than the gore of a movie.

Surrounded by evildoers, Jesus’ aloneness is never more palpable.  Snorting bulls paw a the ground, relishing in the violence, thirsty for more.  The little kings of the jungle called Jerusalem lick their chops at the sight of blood, convinced they’ve got Jesus right where they want him.

From bulls and lions to water and wax and a potsherd, we feel the surges of violence and the agonizingly slow drip of dying on a cross.  Last night, as lectors read the passion narrative in our tenebrae service I watched a subtle breeze tilting backward the slight flame on each of the seven candles.  Instead of rolling down the side of the candle and into the cup it sat in, stalactites of melted wax kept reaching farther from the flame and closer to the floor.  Half-way through the readings the first bead hit the carpet.  Then another.  And another.  Little puddles of wax soaked into the carpet beneath, the spot over which the acolytes carry the cross each Sunday.

I was relieved each time a reader extinguished one more candle, not because I care that much about the carpet, but because I felt helpless.  I couldn’t stop the breeze anymore than a pleading mother and a few disciples could stop the crucifixion.  I just watched as the max slowly melted, as it dried up in the carpet, and the light faded.

The dust of the earth…because of Ash Wednesday, we remember from dust we were made, and to dust we shall return.  Jesus descends to the dust of death.  First by his blood and sweat that drip into the dust beneath.  Then by his body buried in a tomb.

What does it mean for the soil of death to be treated with life?

The Last Words of Jesus: Psalm 22, part IV

Yet it was you who took me from the womb;

    you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.

10 On you I was cast from my birth,

    and since my mother bore me you have been my God.

These tender images of nurture and love are contrasted to the crucifixion’s terrible violence.  Presently, Jesus’ body is nailed to a cross, vulnerability and innocence met with nails, beatings, splinters, thorns, mockery.  Yet he remembers a gentler time, his body safe on his mother’s breast, where vulnerability and innocence are given nourishment, warmth, tenderness, and he heard sweet coos and lullabies.

Hanging on the cross, Jesus saw his mother (Jn. 19:26).  And his mother saw him.  No doubt Mary remembered the day he was born.  She had wrapped him in bands of cloth, cradling his little body before laying him in a manger.  Before the day is over, Jesus will be wrapped in bands of cloth, his dead body cradled by those who take him from the cross and then lay him in a tomb.

Michelangelo’s “Pieta” shows Mary cradling the dead body of her son.

pieta

What do you hear in these words from Jesus?  What do you see in this image?

Offer prayers of thanks for Mary who welcomed Jesus into her womb, nurtured him on her breast, and followed him all the way, even to the cross.  Weep with Mary and with every mother who has suffered the death of a child.  Give thanks for your own mother.  Call her or write a note if you can.  Weep with those children who are without a mother to nurture them or whose mother is not nurturing.

Remember God’s word through the prophet Isaiah, “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you” (Isa. 66:13).

The Last Words of Jesus: Psalm 22, part III

But I am a worm, and not human;

    scorned by others, and despised by the people.

All who see me mock at me;

    they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;

“Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver—

    let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”

As Mark tells the story, the mockery started in the courtyard of the palace and lasted on through the crucifixion.  In the courtyard of the palace, soldiers dressed Jesus up in a robe and crown of thorns.  They mocked him, “Hail King of the Jews!”  While on the cross, passers-by shook their heads and jeered at him, “So you can destroy the Temple in three days?  Well, then, come on down from that cross, why don’t you?!”  The priests and scribes joined in hurling insults at Jesus too, “Let the Messiah come on down from that cross so we may see and believe”.  Even others who were crucified with him joined in the taunts.

The irony of the cross abounds. Their mocking words actually turn out to be true. Jesus is King of the Jews, and King of all the nations. The Lord will rescue him. Jesus will rebuild the Temple in three days, only not in the way they imagined.

But for the moment, on Good Friday, Jesus hangs on the cross.  Scorned.  Despised.  Mocked.  It is difficult, if not impossible, to fathom that degree of rejection.  He came down that we may have love, and we killed Love incarnate.

Have you ever felt rejection?  The sting of unrequited love?  The hurt of seeing someone you love mocked?

Have you mocked someone who committed their cause to the Lord and suffered for it?  Called them foolish?  Shaken your head at them?

How is Jesus inviting you to pray with him?  Perhaps you need renewed courage in the face of mockery.  Healing of a raw wound caused by rejection.  Or maybe to ask forgiveness for taking a cheap shot at someone who has made the difficult choice to follow the way of Jesus in a way that seems to you to be foolish.

Words do hurt us, and yet with the taunts slung at Jesus, it turns out the joke’s on the mockers.  Humor has a sly, even just, way of redeeming malice.  What the mockers intend as derision, turns out to be exactly what Jesus has done–committed himself to the Lord, who will deliver.

The Last Words of Jesus: Psalm 22, Part II

Yet you are holy,

    enthroned on the praises of Israel.

In you our ancestors trusted;

    they trusted, and you delivered them.

To you they cried, and were saved;

    in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.

“Our ancestors trusted”, “they trusted”, “in you they trusted”.  Jesus’ cry without answer is immediately contrasted to his ancestors’ cry and God’s deliverance.

On Maundy Thursday, Christians will gather to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, remembering that on this night Jesus shared his last meal with his disciples.  That meal was the Passover.  And the Passover remembers the Exodus.  Exodus tells the story of God coming down when God hears the cries of Israel, and setting them free from the taskmasters of Egypt.  Exodus is a salvation story.

And Jesus hadn’t forgotten.  Jesus isn’t crying out to any ole God.  He cries out to YHWH, the God of Israel, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  God has a history of delivering and saving.  And Jesus knows it.  Jesus is Jewish, after all.

In seminary, I learned the “you who” prayer. It begins by remembering God’s mighty acts, “Almighty God, you who…made heaven and earth and all that is in them, delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt, made a way when there was no way, looked with favor on the poor…”  Then emboldened by remembering that God is bigger than anything we might face, we offer big prayers.

Remember that God is bigger.  That God has a history of delivering and saving.  What do you remember about the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt, spoke through the prophets, was incarnate in Jesus Christ…  What do you remember?  Give thanks.  Try offering your own “you who” prayer.  Remember, God is bigger.

The Last Words of Jesus: Psalm 22, part I

Often times during Lent, Christians choose a spiritual discipline to practice for the season in order to draw closer to God.  But sometimes a discipline chooses you.  That was the case for me this year.  Actually, God chose how I would spend this season.

When Ash Wednesday came, I had already known for months that my guide through Lent would be Psalm 22.  During a time of morning lectio divina back in the fall, I’d felt the inescapable call to return to this psalm. I entered the psalm knowing the first half of the first verse were the very words Jesus cried out from the cross.  This cry of forsakenness is likely more recognizable as words spoken by Jesus rather than written by David.

While the first half of the first verse is usually as far as we go with Jesus, I found that with each of the four readings during lectio I couldn’t hear any voice but Jesus’.  And it was a voice that beckoned me to the cross.  In reading the New Testament and writings of the early church, we see that the apostles and church fathers believed we could read the Old Testament as words spoken to Jesus, by Jesus, or about Jesus.  They saw Jesus everywhere.  So why not read all of Psalm 22 as words spoken by Jesus?

Typically, on Good Friday, churches will hold services that recall the 7 last words of Jesus as he hung on the cross.  (The Greater Hickory Ministerial Alliance is presenting the 7 Last Words service Friday from noon-3 at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Hickory.)  During this service we hear Jesus’ words from the gospel accounts: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”, “I thirst”, “Father forgive them…”, etc.  What if on Good Friday we didn’t stop reading Psalm 22 after the first half of the first verse?  What if we read it to the end?

This Lent, I discovered how Psalm 22 tells the passion narrative in first-person poetic form.  In the gospel accounts we hear from witnesses who saw Jesus on the cross, the soldiers gambling, the mockers passing by.  In the psalm, we hear from Jesus who sees from the cross.  

There’s a prayer I often say before reading Scripture that says, “see through my eyes, hear through my ears, feel through my heart”.  Over the next few days I invite you to journey to and through the cross with Jesus, speaking through Psalm 22, as our guide-praying that our eyes, ears, and heart may be joined with Jesus’.  With each post, I will include a portion of the psalm and a brief reflection.  You may wish to read the psalm in its entirety each day, then with each post linger on the selection presented, listening for Jesus.

Psalm 22 (NRSV)

To the leader: according to The Deer of the Dawn. A Psalm of David. 

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

    Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?

O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;

    and by night, but find no rest.

 

Here are the words we know so well.  We know them as Jesus’ words, and we know them as our own too.  How many times have these verses been spoken in hospital rooms?  Through tears on a bedroom floor?  During restless nights?  We know abandonment and aloneness.  It feels part and parcel with being human.

Listen to the psalm.  Can you hear Jesus praying in the garden?  His aloneness as the disciples drift off to sleep.  His restlessness as he falls to the ground in prayer.  Can you hear Jesus from the cross?  His friends, scattered in fear.  His rock, denied him three times.  Help seems far away.

My friend, Taylor, wrote a Lenten reflection last year that tells a story from our time in seminary.  Our professor said the passion narrative was his favorite part of the story because when Jesus agonized in the garden, when Jesus cried out from the cross, “that’s when Jesus is just like me”.  Have you felt forsaken?  Forgotten?  Restless?  Helpless?  God’s mercy is that on the cross we are able to feel with Jesus, and to trust Jesus feels with us.

This cry makes us, makes me, uncomfortable because a God who forsakes and doesn’t answer doesn’t sound much like the God I know.  We hear Jesus cry from the cross, and it makes us sympathetic toward Jesus and slightly–or more–resentful toward God.  If God could forsake Jesus, might God forsake me?

This is a natural question to ask, but it’s a dangerous one if we let it linger too long in our minds.  Of course, Jesus is like us–fully human–but also completely unlike us–fully God.  Jesus’ journey to the cross was one of radical obedience and trust.  The bond of love is never broken between Father and Son and Holy Spirit, God is not pitted against God’s self.  The cross is a torturous instrument of death, redeemed by God through the love.

If this is the beginning of a psalm of abandonment, what if it isn’t the Father’s abandonment of the Son, but the Son’s abandonment–Jesus’ radical trust–to the Father?

How can you learn to trust God more today?  What situation do you need to give into God’s care?  Be honest with God.  If God’s mercy on the cross is that we may feel with Jesus, let yourself feel with Jesus all the way to the end.  Pray with Jesus.  Ask Jesus to take your fear, feeling of forgotten-ness, and restlessness.  Let the grace through Jesus’ faithfulness to the Father transform these feelings into certain faith in God.  Pray the psalm, pray it to the end.