Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Praying Psalm 22

painting by: Rogier Van Der Weyden "Lamentation" 1564





By praying Psalm 22 the church is confronted with Christ’s new testament which grasps the action of God in his mystery – his hiddeness in affliction unto death and salvation unto life. In Christ’s passion he cries "Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani," from the cross. Citing the first words of the psalm, in the tradition of the time, meant not that a single verse was recited, but more likely that entire psalm, or whole Psalter. The lament of Christ and His Church is given here. There is a lucid and comprehensive creed of God’s work that proceeds from this lament, that of creator, redeemer, and sanctifier. Delitzsch writes, ""We have here a plaintive Psalm, whose deep complaints, out of the midst of the most humiliating degradation and most fearful peril, stand in striking contrast to the cheerful tone of Ps. 21 – starting with a disconsolate cry of anguish, it passes on to a trustful cry for help, and ends in vows of thanksgiving and a vision of world-wide results, which spring from the deliverance of the sufferer. In no Psalm do we trace such an accumulation of the most excruciating outward and inward suffering pressing upon the complainant, in connection the most perfect innocence." (Carl Friedrick Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament. (Peabody, MA:Hendrickson, 2002), 5:191. The desolate yet fully trustworthy cry for help, "My God why hast though forsaken me" forms the paradigmatic lament of the whole Christian Church. That God is "my God" is a full confession of complete trust in the Father and the work of the Son, for the Christ himself prays this. At times feeling forsakenness, while calling upon God as "Holy Father" - "my Father," is the deepest thrust of handing over of Christ and his faith. Only in the crucifixion, in the forsakenness of the innocent one, can the baptized cry out "My God," "dearest Father, help me."

God is creator who clothes his creatures from the womb with flesh and bone. He is maker of the heavens and the earth. Likewise, he is the creator and giver of faith to infants (vv. 9) – to Christ as he lay on His mother’s breasts. God creatively works salvation and faith in his creatures when they are utterly helpless and completely dependent upon a mother to nurse and feed. There exists no litany of good deeds for the helpless to rely and fall back on, "I was cast upon thee from the womb; thou art my God from my mother’s belly" (vv. 10). This is only the faith of our Lord which is creatively worked in us. Christ and His church pray this in unity, in that Christ casts Himself unto the church – captivating us from the womb when the Holy Gospel is spoken and given. That life and salvation are defined creatively, puts the young and helpless – all people – into His hands, "Be not far from me; for trouble is near; there is none to help" (vv. 11). Life therefore begins in merciful bondage to God. For only, here can freedom be planted in Christ’s cross. Life does not begin by being violently cast out of the womb of life, to sever the cords of the interconnectiveness of God’s love – with life and gifts outpouring from him. Gentle and earthly flesh cannot free himself of God, to "choose," "will," "know," or "create" anything whatsoever. That life begins in merciful bondage, with complete dependence upon God for nourishment from a mother’s breasts, along with life and salvation puts the creature in lament. He must despair first through the natural crucifixion of the old man, who daily arises alongside the new, constantly battling for self-justification and recognition. In the rhythm of the baptismal life, God will frustrate and hinder all attempts of the man who seeks to justify himself over and against God’s gracious gift. Through the preaching of the law and Gospel, the creature is struck down continually and graciously by the hand of the Father, and put forthright unto the bosom of Mother Church. Only here can we understand our Lord’s words, "Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven" (Mt. 19:14). To fear, love, and trust in God above all things involves the crucifixion of the human will, and transfiguring of the "mature" Christian into that of a child.

The lament in Psalm 22 chronicles the Christ as redeemer who reclaims the confounded through pierced hands and feet, with his holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death (vv. 16). There is forsakenness (vv. 1-2), rejected and despised of the people (vv. 6), a pouring out of life (vv. 14-15), with life threatening disorientation (vv. 11, 19-20). It is completely terrifying - the crushing blows of cosmic anarchy descend upon human flesh. The Lord hears every cry and saves the church from the lions mouth – saves sinners from sin, death, and the devil (vv. 21). When the church prays this psalm the whole community of saints brings the most dreadful sufferings of the world to God. Jesus joins the great multitudes in their lament becoming one with them, in turn taking all their affliction and sin into his very body, "David descends, with his complaint into a depth that lies beyond the depth of his affliction, and rises with his hopes, to a height that lies far beyond the height of the reward of his affliction." (Delitzsch p. 194). The Davidic king, Jesus descended into hell and was raised on the third day for the forgiveness of sins. The lament is God’s own son, through who He loves us. His heart melting is his burning anguish, the dreadful scorching of wounds, dreadful wrath in heart and head – the pain of crucifixion, "so marred was His appearance, that He no longer looked like a man" (Is 52:14). The final petition for deliverance comes in verse 21, "save me from the lions mouth," or the great Kyrie, or "deliver us from evil."

In this lament the sufferer feels himself rejected of God; wrath has enveloped him but he remains in fear, love, and trust in God, "My God, my God." From the lowest depths of hell, "Why hast Thou Forsaken me?" In this cosmic tension, the hidden God makes manifest all his mercy. Beyond this divine wrath is hidden love of God which only faith can grasp. In the midst of wrath, pain, and affliction, communion with God is not disturbed by the complaint, by the hasty and sorrowful lament. Psalms that address the disorientation of every human heart keep affliction fixed in Christ who lays down his life on His own accord. This mercy is realized and communicated in lament, where God asks and dearly desires to meet us.


As the lament is prayed, "They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture" (vv. 18). The old and evil man is put to a sure and certain death here in the crucified Lord. As our Lord is crucified naked, his garments are cast off from our horrid sin in the Garden. The new man is naked, the church unblemished, now wrapped in the flesh of Christ. The lament if answered in the second half of the 21st verse, "for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns," and the congregation erupts in to praise and thanksgiving. There is an apocalyptic change in the lament between the 21st and 22nd verse. Something has happened – a new state of affairs has been thrust into the church, the Lord is praised for what he has done.

--------------"Save me from the lions mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns"
--------------"I will declare thy name unto my bretheren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee"

This is the apocalyptic moment that defines eternity. In this lament there is forsakenness, scorn, and hell. Proceeding from it, faith grasps God’s promise, "He trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him" (vv. 8). The delight God finds in his Son at Jordan is eternally realized in the crucifixion. Christ glory is manifest here. The forsakenness and suffering of pierced hands and feet is a matter within God himself. The estrangement, agony, and sin are dealt with through flesh, "But I am a worm; a reproach of men, and despised of the people (vv. 6). There is a complete separation – a total breach, yet never an interruption of faith, claimed in lament, the boldest of all confessions, "My God."

The church speaks petitions of complaint, holding faith in Christ who gives all things. The church is bathed in holy waters, being sanctified in Christ, in the midst of the congregation (vv. 22), where he forgives sin (vv. 31) and gives his Holy Supper (vv. 26). There is an eternal hymn of praise and celebration of God’s work in the midst of the congregation (vv. 22-31). The Psalmist therefore a provides a catechetical movement that preaches God as creator, redeemer, and sanctifier. This is the paradigmatic model for hymnody, where God’s work is preached in its fullness, and the theology of lament defines the Christian life - wherein God is held in his promises - his Gospel - where there is constant forgiveness of sins.

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