Psalm 22—The Psalm of the Cross

A reflection by Revd Ian Tomkins—Sunday March 22nd 2020

Hello Dear Friends

This Sunday, we are continuing our sermon series, ‘Psalms for Lent’. Today’s is Psalm 22Open Link in New Window, usually called the ‘Psalm of the Cross’. When we read the first verse, the reason for this is clear, as this psalm of David opens with the words, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’, and we are vividly confronted with the crucifixion.

It is in Matthew’s Gospel where we read that, moments before his death on the cross, ‘About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”? (Matthew 27:46Open Link in New Window).

And then as we read on, further significant and familiar narrative…
‘All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads;’ (verse 8), ‘Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet.’ (verse 16), ‘They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.’ (verse 18).

Sound familiar? Reading the verses in between too, we realise the magnitude of these cries. This Psalm was written around 1000 years before Jesus was born. Yet Jesus seemed to know, in some way, that it was about him. It seems to be a narrative about his death—but written by David all those years before.

There has been much research and speculation into David’s possible reasons for writing these words. Commentaries on this psalm tell us that there was no incident recorded about David’s life which could explain such a cry. David faced many trials and difficulties, but this is of a different scale. This is not the description of someone who is, for example, very ill. It is the description of someone whose life is ending, who is being subjected to the most brutal of treatment.

The language of the psalm would seem to defy any natural explanation. Perhaps the best explanation is found in Peter’s word about David in Acts, ‘But he was a prophet… Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ…’ (Acts 2:30,31Open Link in New Window) Prophetic words spoken by a man ‘after God’s own heart’ (1 Samuel 13,14Open Link in New Window), foretelling the coming of a Messiah, who would carry the burdens of the world, who would die for the world he loved, who would rescue and deliver us from darkness, who would rise again to new life, with the promise of restoration and of being with God forever.

I wonder how you are feeling today. With a pandemic gripping our world, huge changes to how we are being asked to live, all usual contact with each other being curtailed, I think perhaps like me and everyone else, you are living with a mix of emotions, which can be buffeted around hour by hour. There has been a palpable sense of fear. We all have so much to process and work out.

But in the middle of all of this, I have been struck by the acts of love, grace, thoughtfulness and kindness which I am hearing about and encountering; so many people actively looking out for each other, and for the vulnerable, the lonely, the confused, the sick. We are witnessing the complete opposite of fear, and that is HOPE.

In Psalm 22Open Link in New Window, David’s prophetic foretelling of the saviour to come takes us to the heart of our God of love, who cries out in utter desolation at the weight of the burdens he carries on our behalf—in his sense of being utterly forsaken, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ And yet David ends the psalm with words of deliverance, rescue, and then praise.
Our loving saviour is someone who ‘has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from (us), but has listened to (their) cry for help.’ (Verse 24).

A turning point in the psalm comes in verse 21 and the following verses, where cries of desolation and prayer are replaced by praise and a vision of God’s perfect rule. ‘Then poor will eat and be satisfied; they who seek the Lord will praise him—may your hearts live forever!’ (Verse 26).

In my own confusion, weariness and concern, I too have had my moments this week of crying out at the trials around us. But I have also been able to give thanks and praise God, for the hope He brings to my life every day. We can count on this hope through the power and filling of God’s Holy Spirit.

Remember the psalm Richard spoke about last week, ‘My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I shall never be shaken. (Psalm 62:1-2Open Link in New Window).

We can continue to build our lives on Him and share His love in abundance, with our families, friends and communities in new and beautiful ways.

At the heart of the cross is Jesus—the one who endured the greatest trials that anyone has ever suffered. But Jesus trusted utterly in the love and grace of God, and rose from death—even death on a cross. Easter beckons.

With our love and prayers, as we journey together in faith and trust.

There is a podcast of the Sunday Sermon based on this reflection.

Light a candle of hope: A national call to prayer

This Sunday 22nd March, pray with Christians throughout the country, and light a candle at 7pm, and place it in your window as a sign and witness of Jesus, the Light of the world.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger. from St Patrick’s Breastplate

Radio 4 Sunday Worship at 8.10am. The Archbishop of Canterbury is to lead the first national virtual Church of England service on Radio 4 this Sunday. It will include prayers, hymns and a short sermon.

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