A Holy Week Message from Bishop Bryan: Reflections on Psalm 22
Holy Week is a journey to the cross, the center of our faith. Meditating on the crucifix connects us with the wounds of Jesus, “… by his stripes we are healed.” Meditating on the empty cross, the Resurrection Cross, connects us to God’s victory over sin, evil, and death. As we make this journey, please join me in focusing our hearts and minds on Psalm 22.
The first verse of Psalm 22 is familiar to us because Jesus prayed it from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Anyone who reads all 31 verses will recognize that this is not a “feel good” psalm. It is, however, a tremendous resource for those times in our lives and in the lives of our churches and communities when everything seems out of joint. From Palm Sunday to Good Friday I encourage us to pray Psalm 22 with the conviction that God has something personal to say to each of us.
In addition to the opening line about feeling godforsaken, verse two amplifies the anguish by saying, “I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.”
Then comes a surprise in verse three: “Yet you...” Here the psalmist shifts from personal pain to the holiness of God and how “our ancestors trusted and you delivered them.” This is not “positive thinking” but is based on remembering the real story of God’s deliverance throughout the history of Israel.
By verse six, however, the psalmist is back in the dark valley of the immediate situation: “I am a worm, and not human … scorned by others and despised … all who see me mock at me ...”
This sense of doom and gloom multiplies for three verses. At this point we are thoroughly depressed. But then the psalmist repeats in verse nine the surprise first found in verse three: “Yet it was you...” Earlier the psalmist remembered God’s faithfulness to the ancestors but now comes a more personal memory: “Yet it was you who took me from the womb … you kept me safe … on you I was cast from my birth ...”
Notice the back and forth movement in Psalm 22. One set of verses expresses the groaning of human anguish. But this is followed by a vision of God’s great faithfulness. Then the sequence repeats itself. This back and forth movement is the story of real life: ups and downs, a roller coaster ride.
The psalm continues, “All my bones are out of joint … my heart is like wax … my mouth is dried up … I can count all my bones …” Everything in life seems out of joint.
“But you, O Lord ...” At last we come to the saving insight, the Lord “does not despise nor abhor the poor in their poverty … the poor shall eat and be satisfied, and those who seek the Lord shall praise him.”
Poverty has many dimensions: lack of basic needs such as food, clothing, or shelter; lack of a sense of meaning in life; lack of healthy relationships; lack of hope for any improvement in life. Rather than running away from our own poverty, Psalm 22 takes us even more deeply into it. And just when it seems that despair is going to overwhelm us we find that word, “Yet ...” In the midst of recognizing our own poverty - physical, emotional, or spiritual - we discover the divine “Yet.” We hit bottom and discover the God is the bottom. We have fallen into the arms of God.
Where does it seem to you that everything is out of joint? Is it in physical health, mental or emotional stress, relationships, your spiritual life, or the challenges we face in discerning God’s future for South Georgia and for The United Methodist Church? How blessed we will be if we use Psalm 22 to open us to our own poverty so that we can join the Psalmist, and Jesus, in a Holy Week pilgrimage that lands us in the arms of God.
Alive Together in Christ,
R. Lawson Bryan