Meditation 12: Psalm 22.1-11 (Good Friday)

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.

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.

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!”

Yet it was you who took me from the womb;
you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.

On you I was cast from my birth,
and since my mother bore me you have been my God.

Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near and there is no one to help.

Psalm 22.1-11

After the betrayal, the unjust trial, the denial, the public rejection, the flogging, the mock coronation and the long walk of shame, Jesus, nailed to the cross, cries out: Eli! Eli! lema sabachthani? that is, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

The power of this moment makes these words some of best known from the book of Psalms.

These words begin an extract from scripture which moves between a cry for help (verses 1-2), a declaration of confidence based on the trust of earlier generation (verses 3-5), a description of human distress (verses 6-8), and another declaration of confidence based on the evidence of God’s protection in the past (verses 9-11).

The familiarity of the opening words of Psalm 22 is only part of the story of its significance in the gospel narrative. Other verses are quoted throughout the New Testament… Take time to prayerfully read through the whole psalm and you will be surprised by just how much of it you recognise.

It is hardly surprising that as Jesus hung on the cross taking the final breath of his human life, these should be the words that sprung into his mind.

The well-known opening words of this psalm have both an urgency and an intimacy that cannot be bettered in the context of the crucifixion… these are the words of a child desperately and urgently seeking the reassurance and consolation that can only come from a loving parent.

For many of those who stood around, witnessing this terrible scene, it was easy to turn their hysterical cries of Crucify him! into mocking word play but, for others, the whole context of Psalm 22 offered affirmation that Jesus was crying to his (and our) Father in heaven.

Our reading of today’s verses from Psalm 22 should not stop at its opening desperate cry.

Victory over death is near.

The hope and joy of the resurrection is just around the corner.

Today we are called to share in the moment of Jesus’ ignominious death but… let us also cling on to the verses that express the psalmist’s confidence in God’s protection and saving power.