Psalm 22 and Maundy Thursday

The end of Maundy Thursday finishes with our Altar Guild stripping the altar of its paraments to prepare for Good [God’s] Friday.  The lights are dimmed and the paraments are put away in reverence.  As this is taking place, the pastor chants Psalm 22.

A Bit about the Structure of Psalm 22

After the invocation, Psalm 22 is a prayer composed of a grievance (a), a statement of confidence (b), a request (c), and a reason to thank God in repeating sequence: a b a b c a c d.  The psalm concludes by pointing forward to the fulfillment of history.

Invocation (vs. 2a) “My God, my God…”  The psalm’s main stylistic feature is the doubling of ideas or statements, which magnifies the complaints and the praises.  

Both Matthew and Mark mention Jesus speaking the first verse of this psalm in Hebrew, which is “shorthand” for saying He quoted the entire psalm (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34).  
1st grievance (vs. 2b-3) The tone is of an extreme crisis, of abandonment by God.  Ironic as it may appear if God did abandon Jesus, why pray?  Thus, the prayer itself testifies to differing “levels” of God’s presence.  In a general sense, He is always everywhere.  Nevertheless, to save, He makes Himself present in a different way, both in the Old Covenant and in the New.  

Jesus doesn’t ask to be delivered from His pain, which implies God will achieve something through His sufferings.
 
1st statement of confidence (vs. 4-6) The prayer remembers God’s faithfulness in the past when He rescued His people (vs. 4-6).  
2nd grievance (vs. 7-9) Here, Jesus confesses He is an object of mockery, with the people making faces and shaking their heads at Him (vs. 8).  The implication is if the people ridicule Him, they are also ridiculing God and questioning His divine power to intervene.  In the end, if God doesn’t vindicate Jesus, both He and God will be the fool.
 
2nd statement of confidence (vs. 10-11) The prayer remembers God’s care from birth (vs. 10-11).  These words are most appropriate since Mary stood beneath the cross, with Jesus referring to her through the words of this psalm. 
 
1st request (vs. 12a) The repetition “do not be far” (vs. 12, 20) sets the tone for the grievance that follows.  
 
3rd grievance (vs. 12b-19) God is “far” (vs. 12, 20), “trouble is near,” and no relief is in sight (vs. 12, 20-22).  “Abandon” or “forsaken,” no answer, “no one to help” (vs. 2, 3, 12) heighten the sense of God abandoning Jesus.   

Corresponding to God being distant is the imagery of enemies surrounding Jesus, described in animal terms (vs. 13, 17).  Like the strong “bulls of Bashan,” strengthened by the fertile land of blue pasture (Deuteronomy 32:14, Amos 4:1), the crushing jaws of a lion, emerging as wild dogs, the enemies around Jesus are unrelenting.  

Now begins the listing of body parts, starting and ending with “bones.”  In between are the heart, mouth, tongue, jaw, hands, and feet.  Together, they depict a failing physical body—a weakening heart, affecting Jesus’ ability to speak (mouth, tongue, jaws), extending to the limbs.  The entire body is failing and dying.  

“My palate is dry as a shard of pottery, my tongue cleaves to the roof of my mouth” reveals the water needed for life is absent (vs. 16).  Scarce is the person who hears this line without calling to mind Jesus crying from the cross: “I thirst” (John 19:28).  

The parceling out of clothing reveals onlookers who regard Christ’s death as certain and sure.  The Gospels tell us of soldiers taking Jesus’ garments at the time of His Crucifixion (See John 19:23-24).  

The nails supporting our Lord’s body on the cross recalls vs. 17 of this psalm. 

2nd request (vs. 20-22) Earlier, Christ prayed “there is no one to help” (vs. 12).  Now, the psalm uses the vocative (“O”) for Lord.  The earlier-mentioned animals appear again, but now in reverse order.  “The paw of the dog,” will claim His life by the sword.  Thus, the psalm unmasks the animal imagery as metaphors for human agents of evil who surround Jesus with swords.  

Now, He addresses His Father, “hasten to help me,” implying He will now speak forth what God will do.  

Two verbs, “deliver” and “save,” repeat.  In vs. 9, the enemies’ taunts imply God cannot “deliver” while the psalm complains God is “so far from my rescue” (vs. 2).    

The Masoretes, when they added vowel markers, pointed the last word in vs. 22 to read “You answered me.”  The parallel thoughts in vs. 21 and 22a suggest ANH should not be “uhnitani” but “aniyati,” “my poor one,” that is, “my poor life.”  

Requesting God to “deliver” and “save” reveals Jesus’ faith in what God will accomplish through Him on the cross.
 
Reason to thank God (vs. 23-27) A change from tears to joy no takes place (v. 23).  The earlier isolation, which meant death, gives way to life.  So, the psalm now summons the assembly to celebrate God’s deliverance (vs. 23-24), giving the reason for such praise (vs. 25-27).  

Don’t miss the prayer now thanking God—not for what He did—but for what He will do, “Let me recount Your name to my people” is a future event.  The personal name for God, “Yahweh” (vs. 24) doesn’t limit itself to “He is,” but also includes “He causes to be.”  

At last, the prayer reveals God is not distant in the great assembly, testifying to His real presence among His people to save.  The psalm now broadens its outlook, perceiving a horizon beyond human sight in both space and time. 
 
Conclusion: A contemplation on the fulfillment of history (vs. 28-32) God will not only be present to save His people in the assembly (vs. 23, 26) but He will reach to the farthest regions of the earth (vs. 28).  “Remember and turn,” words for Old Covenant Israel to return to the Lord, now apply to the Gentile and pagan, testifying to a cross-won salvation revealed in the resurrection.  An ever-expanding salvation now ripples outward in geography: to “my people” (vs. 23) and distant nations (vs. 28).  Also changed is the future, to include those who are asleep in the depths of the earth (vs. 30) and a generation yet unborn (vs. 31-32).   

In Mark’s Gospel, each of Jesus’ three predictions of His Passion ends with a prediction of the Resurrection (Mark 8:31, 9:31, 10:34).  So also does this psalm end with the voice of victory.  

Like birth, the resurrection will bring forth God’s deliverance, binding the psalm’s beginning with its ending.  “My God, my God, why do You abandon me” now becomes, “Let them come and proclaim His righteousness to a people yet to be born, ‘He [God] has done this.’”  

From the initial cry of isolation and abandonment, the psalm now moves to live “for” or “in” Yahweh.  Though starting with the terror of the void, the prayer ends with the fervor of the saved, the result of the resurrection.  
 

Psalm 22 (for chanting on Maundy Thursday, click to see video)

My God, my God, why do You abandon me?  So far from my rescue are the words of my grieving. 

My God, I cry by day, but You do not answer; by night, but I find no relief.

Nevertheless, You are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.  In You, our fathers put their trust, they trusted, and You set them free.  

Toward You, they cried out and escaped; confident in You, they did not suffer shame.

But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by all and despised by the people.  

All who see me jeer at me—they curl their lips and wag their heads,

“Trust in the Lord, let Him rescue.  Let Him snatch this one up for He takes pleasure in this one.”

From the womb, You drew me forth and taught me to trust at my mother’s breasts.  Dependent upon You from birth; from my mother’s womb, You are my God.  

Be not far from me, for distress is near, and no one else can help.

Many bulls encircle me, the mighty of Bashan encompass me.  Like a ravening and roaring lion, they gape their mouths against me.

Like water I am poured out, disjointed are all my bones.  My heart is become like wax, melting inside my chest.

My palate is dry as a shard of pottery, my tongue cleaves to the roof of my mouth, and You thrust me down into the dust of death.  

For dogs, they surround me.  A gang of evildoers closes in on me, they pierced my hands and feet, but I can count my every bone.  

At me, they gloat and gawk, they divide my clothing among themselves, and, for my garments, they drop the dice.

But you, O Lord, be not aloof; my strength, hasten to help me!  Rescue my soul from the sword, my life from the paw of the dog.  

Save my life from the jaws of the lion, my poor life from the horns of the oxen.

Let me recount Your name to my people, in the assembly let me extol You, “All who fear the Lord, praise Him.  

All descendants of Jacob, honor him!  Be in awe, all the offspring of Israel!  

For God never despised or disdained the affliction of the afflicted, nor did He conceal His presence from them since He listens to the cry of the poor.”

In the great assembly, is my praise for You.  In the presence of those who revere Him, I will fulfill my vows.  

The hungry will eat and be satisfied.  All who seek the Lord will praise Him.  May your hearts thrive forever!

The farthest reaches of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord.  All the Gentile families will bow down before Him, for the kingdom is the Lord’s, and He reigns above the nations.  

All who prosper on earth will worship Him; all who go down to the dust will kneel before Him, even the one who could not keep himself alive.

May my descendants serve Him; may they tell about the Lord to the coming generation.  Let them come and proclaim His righteousness to a people yet to be born, “He has done this.”

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