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.
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.
We love Psalm 23. It may be the most favorite of all Scripture – an affirmation of faith, a testament of hope, a poetic epitaph for life lived in God’s presence and promises.
However, most of us want to run from Psalm 22!
Psalm 22 is our devotional for this day, Good Friday.
Jesus quotes the opening words of Psalm 22 from the cross on Good Friday – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Those are not words we want on our lips. Those are words that remind us how difficult and desperate life can become. Those are words that would verify our lives in deep trouble, crying out in lament to God.
And if we have lived life a little bit, we might also know those words, have felt those words, have spoken those words.
I think of a young couple in the church who had been striving to have a baby, then waiting nine long months anticipating the baby, and then losing the baby from complications within a few hours of the birth. Their words echoed those cries from Psalm 22.
The psalmist cries out sincere words from the harsh realities of the human condition. The psalmist reminds us how we can fall away from God’s covenant, and contribute to the harsh realities for others. Desolation makes us feel like “a worm.”
But sometimes, we find ourselves complicit in others feeling like ‘worms’.
Our Mexican-American neighbors: “I can’t watch the news for two minutes without watching someone who claims to be Christian tell me my people are sub-human”.
Our Afghani-American neighbors: “We are afraid all the time because the verbal attacks never stop coming and we are so worried that one day those attacks will become physical violence.”
When we open up and are willing to see the brutalities and insensitivities in the world, we might also see and feel the lashes and nails all around us.
“[Mexicans] have calves the size of cantaloupes [from trafficking drugs].” One lash.
“We’re going to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it.” Another lash.
“The only solution for our illegal alien problem is to send our marshals to the border to shoot those who try to cross.” One nail.
“These people are criminals.” Another nail.
The humans we treat as worms know more about Jesus than we ever will. And in the midst of suffering, Jesus is there. “As you do to the least of these my brothers you do unto me.”
Faith is always lived on a spectrum between desperation and affirmation. God can deal with our cries. And from our cries and groans, we might also recall some truths – God can be trusted, even if we are not trusting God during some harsh moments. God has saved others, maybe God will save us.
And God calls us to live a life that honors Christ, which means we must advocate for the full humanity of those who are treated as worms.
Lament and faith go together – what a wonderful reminder. Lament might even inspire us to think about what is most faithful.
The psalmist continues with specific details of the trouble, reminding us that God can help us with all things: “many bulls encircle me, strong bulls surround me,” and fear remains pervasive. The psalmist describes the body – “bones are out of joint, my heart is like wax, . . . my mouth is dried up,” and “you lay me in the dust of death” (vv. 14-15).
This is a psalm that gives us resources for our emotions – nothing is too much for God. Physical pains, heart-felt worries, desperate fears, psychological issues, and deep woes are all present.
This is a psalm that challenges us to be faithful in all things, seeking to love and serve like Jesus.
In that spirit, let us pray together…
Holy God, on this Good Friday,
when we recall the violent death of Jesus, and remember his sense of being forsaken on the cross,
we also recall the seasons of our lives when we feel forsaken and cry out to God.
Remind us always of your steadfast love. Fill us again with your promises and peace.
Re-direct us to lives of doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with you, following Christ our Lord. Amen.
Lana Heath de Martinez is a final level M. Div. student. Lana has spent a great deal of time working as an Immigrant Rights Public Policy Fellow in the Public Policy Witness Purpose Group- Presbytery of the James in conjunction with the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy. She hopes to continue working in faith-based advocacy, proclaiming in word and deed the Gospel imperative to care for the most vulnerable among us.
The Rev. Dr. Alex Evans (M. Div. 1987) is pastor of Second Presbyterian Church in Richmond, VA.