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April 3, 2015 - Psalm 22

“Sing Along”

Psalm 22

April 3, 2015

 

Amazing Grace is sung a capella, in such a manner as to invite the congregation to join in.  The first and last verse should be sung.

 

It is amazing how music can become so familiar and so dear to us.  They tell us in Seminary that our theology is not taught in churches from the Bible, nor is it dispensed from the Ministers.  Our theology they say, is taught to us in our hymns.  In large part, that is true.

 

Hymns can become so precious to us.  That is why at times of the year like this, and at Christmas, people expect to sing certain hymns.  You cannot get through any Easter without singing hymns full of blood and the Cross and neither can you get through a Christmas without the Silent Night.  Hymns serve as anchors; they attach a certain solidity to our experience in this Holiday.  That way we know we have had the Holy Week experience that we are supposed to have.

 

But the hymns for the holiday do not tell all the story.  Sometimes they even tell the story wrong.  We Three Kings of Orient Are, for instance.  The wise men were Astrologers, not Kings, we have no idea how many of them there were, and they were from Iraq.  We, the Myriad Iraqi Astrologers just doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it?   As for Easter, we have many more hymns that talk about Jesus’ crucifixion than we do his resurrection.  We don’t have any hymns that lament Jesus’ pain at Judas’ betrayal.  And we don’t have any hymns that talk about when Jesus cried out to God in Matthew 27:46.  

 

That is an important moment.  When Jesus cries out to God while on the cross.

 

Jesus’ “Cry of Dereliction”, as it has come to be called, is one of the most gut wrenching texts in the Bible, in my opinion.  “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabactanai!”  “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me!”  It tears our heart out to hear Jesus cry, as if the presence of the Lord has been ripped away from him for the first time in his existence.  In his cry, when all can find the fear that all of us have known at one time or another in our lives.  We cry “Why me, God?”  And one of the most powerful ways that this text ministers to us is in our ability to hear our own voices crying it out “My God, where are you when I need you? Just when I need you most?”

 

Unfortunately, this text has confused far too many preachers and lay people.  And too many people have formed some real dangerous ideas about this text.  Some people assume that God “left” Jesus, so that he could bear our sin, and that God turned his back on Jesus, and that is wrong.  If you hear a TV preacher talking about this text and he or she is saying something that sounds like it is wrong, it probably is.  Unless you take the time to properly study the context of this saying, then you will miss the point completely, as many often do.

 

Harry Fosdick once said, “If a person provides a subtext to a biblical text without taking the time to interpret a scripture within its context, he is likely to use it as a pretext.”  If we do not understand what Jesus is trying to do by saying this particular phrase, then we need to understand where it comes from, who he was talking to, and what it all meant to a first century Jew in Jerusalem.  If we don’t we end up with something in our heads that shouldn’t be there.

 

There is a meaning behind this text that many people have never taken the time to understand.  It is true that the power of hopelessness, the feeling of identity we find with Christ in his statement is still a real way that God speaks to us through this text, but it is NOT its only meaning.

 

The first century Jews had hymns of worship, just like we do.  But remember the context.  They had no printing presses, which means they had no books.  No hymnbooks!  No video projectors.  The only person that had a copy of the song was the song leader, and that was a scroll.  People learned their songs the old fashioned way, by singing them.  Just like you know all the words to the Doxology, but never use a hymnbook, the Jews in the Temple and Synagogues never used a scroll or book.

 

What would happen, and we know this for a fact from Jewish tradition, is that the Cantor, or song leader, would sing or call out the first line of the Psalm to the group and then everyone would sing it in unison.  He would not say, “Turn to Psalm 22…”.  First, they had nothing to turn in – no books, and second, none of the Psalms or any other books had numbers until around 1100 A.D. when Jerome added them.  No chapters or numbers, just words.  So, the cantor calls out the beginning words to call to the minds of the worshipers the entire song.

 

So what does this have to do with Jesus and the Cross?  Glad you asked.

 

Did you know that Jesus, when he said these words, was quoting scripture?

 

If you have a study Bible, and you look at Matthew 27:46, there should be a notation that takes you to Psalm 22.  If not, then get a refund.  Because, Psalm 22 has everything to do with Jesus on the cross.  If Jesus is quoting from a Psalm, a hymn, than that means that he is trying to say something to his listeners while he is on the cross.  What does it say? 

 

Before I read it to you, picture the scene in your mind’s eye.  Jesus has been nailed to and hung upon a cross.  He was beaten within an inch of his life.  Now, he is being crucified.  His disciples and followers are scared for their lives, and all of them (except for John, his mother Mary and Mary Magdalene) have scattered and are hiding.  All their hopes and dreams are shattered.  This is their nightmare.  Jesus, bloodied and broken, makes the effort to call out to them like a Cantor the first line of Psalm 22, a psalm written by King David hundreds of years before – for this very moment.

 

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

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

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

and by night, but find no rest.

3 Yet you are holy,

enthroned on the praises of Israel.

4 In you our ancestors trusted;

they trusted, and you delivered them.

5 To you they cried, and were saved;

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

6 But I am a worm, and not human;

scorned by others, and despised by the people.

7 All who see me mock at me;

they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;

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

let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”

9 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.

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.

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.

Here in the first 18 verses of the Psalm we see that feeling of abandonment that we have come to associate with Jesus’ cry of dereliction.  But, remember that the Cantor used the first lines of a Psalm to call to mind the entire Psalm to the minds of the congregation.  I think Jesus is doing the same thing here, so we need to read the entire Psalm.  Notice in the rest of this Psalm, how the mood and spirit of the words change from doubt, abandonment, and torture to a confident faith that God never fails:

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!

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.

25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation;

my vows I will pay before those who fear him.

26 The poor shall eat and be satisfied;

those who seek him shall praise the Lord.

May your hearts live forever!

27 All the ends of the earth shall remember

and turn to the Lord;

and all the families of the nations

shall worship before him.

28 For dominion belongs to the Lord,

and he rules over the nations.

29 To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down;

before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,

and I shall live for him.

30 Posterity will serve him;

future generations will be told about the Lord,

31 and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,

saying that he has done it.

 

If we think that the cry of dereliction on the cross means only great suffering, we are wrong.  Jesus is quoting scripture, and calling to our minds all that is in it.  Just as you immediately joined in with me in Amazing Grace, and no trouble with the words at the beginning or the end, the same was true for the people around the Cross that night.  Jesus was not saying that he was angry at God, but that he knows that despite his situation, that God will ultimately care for him and God will ultimately triumph.

 

Jesus was saying, “remember what you have seen, and know that God is working in this, for as the song says, this is the deliverance for a people yet unborn.”  He was talking, singing, about us.