Psalm 22 & Matthew 27:32-46


Abandoned. It’s a funny word, isn’t it. It’s one of those words with a range of meanings, all with the same root, but some meanings are very negative and some are really positive. To be abandoned is one of the worst and most lonely experiences that a person can go through. To abandon yourself to someone in love is one of the most beautiful and life affirming experiences we can have. As I was reflecting on Psalm 22 it struck me that it it could be thought of as a song of abandonment.

It’s a song whose impact is coloured for us by our knowledge of Jesus on the cross, abandoned to God’s will and abandoned by God, and we will think about that in a little while, but first lets do our best to forget that we know about that and go back to how it was written to be read and prayed.

1-2 Lament – God has disappeared, God has abandoned me.

3-4 – Pull yourself together, you know who God is, and you know that God saved your ancestors in the past.

6-8 But I’m not like them, I’m not even a man – I’m a worm. Everybody hates me, they’re even mocking my faith, my trust.

9-11 But I’ve known you since I was born, you’ve always been there for me, but it feels like you’re not there. – Moves to prayer – be not far from me.

12-18 Recounting of the troubles – both those external troubles – the lions and the bulls, and describing the internal effect it has – the heart melting like wax, the feeling that all your joints are out of kilter.

19-21 Drags back to prayer. Was in risk of getting overwhelmed by dwelling on the problems, but drags it back to this repeated prayer – be not far from me. Deliver me. rescue me.

22 – A decision to praise – I will praise you God – I will abandon myself in praise.

23-24 a call to praise – I will call others to abandon themselves in worship.

25-31 declaration of praise – I begin to abandon myself, despite everything that is going wrong.

So that is the shape this song of abandonment took when it was first written, moving from a sense of being abandoned by God to being abandoned in praise and trust in God. This is the shape that sustained the people of God who prayed it over the centuries, and it was the shape that was in Jesus’ mind as he cried out the first verse from the cross.

We need to remember that there is no indication that this was ever intended to be a messianic psalm. Before Jesus came, the people of God were waiting for a messiah, someone to come from God to rescue them. Some of the Old testament scriptures promised that God was going to send someone, and some were believed to describe that person, what they would be like, and what they would do. This was not one of them. It might have been prayed as part of the prayers for the Messiah to come, “God rescue us.” but it was not thought that it would be prayed by the Messiah. What kind of rescuer is it that themselves needs to be rescued. What kind of person is chosen and sent by God that then prays, “why have you forsaken me?”

But Jesus did pray it, he prayed it on the cross, and whilst he only shouted out the first verse, everybody listening would have known the rest. So let’s go through it again, picking up some of the ways in which this resonates with Jesus’ crucifixion.

My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?

What does it mean for Jesus, God’s only Son, part of the Trinity, to be forsaken by God the Father.

One of the commentaries puts it like this, “The sufferer of Psalm 22 is a human being, experiencing the terror of mortality in the absence of God and the presence of enemies. In the suffering of Jesus, we perceive God, in Jesus, entering into and participating in the terror of mortality; he identifies with the suffering and the dying.”

For me, though, it is more than identification. It seems to me that this cry is at the heart of the reason for the cross.

What is it that separates us from God, our Creator? It is our sin, our unfaithfulness, our rebellion. We, as human beings, cut ourselves off from the life sustaining presence of God. The only human being who has never been cut off from God’s presence because of their own sin is Jesus. The wonder of the cross, is that Jesus chose to take our sin into himself, and as a consequence was cut off from the presence of God.

I wonder when you have felt closest to God. Maybe it was a particular worship service, maybe it was out on a hill or in a field somewhere, or was it when you finally realised that Jesus died for you, and you decided to give your life to him. Just hold that time, the time you felt closest to God in your memory for a moment. Then imagine that sense of an awareness of God’s presence magnified a million fold, and continuous, never failing, always there. That is how Jesus experienced God’s presence. Until this moment. Until God’s face turned away from God’s son because of the sin of the world that Jesus was carrying on that cross. Can you imagine the heartbreak. The only Son, forsaken.

This is what happened at the cross. God abandoned Jesus to us, because of our sin, so that Jesus, fully abandoned to obedience to God, might enable us to abandon ourselves to God’s love.

God abandoned Jesus to us, because of our sin, so that Jesus, fully abandoned to obedience to God, might enable us to abandon ourselves to God’s love.

In the middle of this abandonment we read of the insulting voices, “Let the Lord rescue him.” And we hear the echoes of the crowds on Golgotha, “If you are the messiah save yourself”. And perhaps, as the song writer has it, “ashamed I hear my mocking voice, call out among the scoffers.”

Verse 18 calls to mind the Roman soldiers, the occupying forces, the agents of the state, inured to the torture that they are inflicting, playing dice for Jesus’ seamless robe.

But then the voice of hope begins to be heard. At that moment all seems lost, even the sky has turned black, but there is hope. God has not hidden his face, God has heard the cry for help. Because of Jesus, justice will be done on earth, the poor will eat and be satisfied. He is the bread of life, and because of Jesus’ death and coming resurrection all that are hungry and thirsty can come to him and eat and be satisfied.

You might not be able to keep yourselves alive, but Jesus can. Because of the cross, death is defeated, it has no power now. Because Jesus took the consequences of our sin, because he was separated from the Father, we can be united with the Father. Never again do we have to leave the presence of the one who sustains our life. We can be forgiven, we can live fully, with God, forever.

Because he has done it. Jesus’ final words from the cross. “It is finished.” “It is complete” “I have done it”. Jesus has done it. Jesus has fulfilled all the prophecies of the messiah. Jesus has fulfilled the requirements of the law. Jesus has satisfied the Father. Jesus has borne the consequences of our sin. Jesus has defeated death. Jesus has won for us new life. He has done it.

So what about us, how do we pray this Psalm? Sometimes it does feel like God is far away, like we’ve been abandoned. What can we do in those times? Well it seems to me that this Psalm, and Jesus’ example, might show us a way through.

The first step is to be honest with God and to tell God how we’re feeling. Christian faith is not about pretending all is well when it isn’t. Christian faith is about being real about the situation as it is and choosing to trust God anyway.

Sometimes it helps to be reminded, and to remind ourselves, of God’s faithfulness and saving presence in the past. That’s one of the reasons that we meet together as Christians, to share the stories of God’s mighty acts. It’s one of the reasons that we share communion together when we meet.

We can tell God what is going on. It’s not that God doesn’t know about our situation, but God loves it when we open up and share how it’s making us feel. God wants us to open our hearts and lives totally in trust, in vulnerability, and in abandonment.

We can ask God not to be far away, not to be distant, to rescue us, to deliver us. Because of what we know of what Jesus did on the cross, we have even more reason for hope and trust than the writer of the Psalm did. God so desired to rescue and deliver us from sin and death that Jesus went through all that so that we could be saved. If God did that, how much more will God see us through the other things that trouble us?

It seems to me that the journey into abandonment to praise that the Psalmist takes might also be helpful. This is not a simplistic call to just praise God and everything will be fine. It takes seriously the fact that sometimes we do not feel like praising God, that it’s hard to be positive when everything seems so dark.

The first step is one intent, one of the will. “I will declare your name.” “I will praise you”. I am going to choose to do this, because I know that is what God commands, because I know that as I focus on Jesus, so other things seem less daunting, so I remind myself of the promises that I will never be abandoned. This first step is often the hardest, the decision of the will to abandon ourselves to God.

The second step is to call others to join us in praise. Some of this might be about asking others to encourage us with accounts of what God has been doing in their lives, and choosing to hear those stories as an encouragement rather than being envious of them. Some of it will be about the sense that we get caught up in worship with others as we sing and pray and worship together. A coal taken out of the fire gradually goes cold.

Finally we find ourselves, sometimes to our own surprise, abandoned in praise and worship of the one who has not, and never will abandon us, the one who loves us, the one who died and lives for us and in us, the one who has done it.

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