April 29, 2021
Psalm 22:25-31 NRSV
Rev. David Graybeal
Keith Memorial United Methodist Church
From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
26 The poor[a] 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.[b]
28 For dominion belongs to the Lord,
and he rules over the nations
29 To him,[c] indeed, shall all who sleep in[d] the earth bow down;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
and I shall live for him.[e]
30 Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord,
31 and[f] proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,
saying that he has done it.
See the Whole Psalm
After reading the confident, optimistic words of today’s scripture, it can be hard to believe that this is the very same psalm that starts out so desperately, so despondently, in words that we probably know best from Christ on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1, see Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34).
The first half or more of this psalm describes so much of the shame and agony Jesus experienced on the cross. “All who see me mock at me;” the psalmist laments. “They make mouths at me, they shake their heads” (v. 7). The psalmist imagines his deriders exclaiming, “’Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver – let him rescue the one in whom he delights” (v. 8) – words that are echoed in the cries of the crowd for Christ to come down from the cross and to let the Lord deliver him if he is indeed God’s beloved Son.
The psalmist captures the dehydration and the exhaustion that Christ experienced while dying on the cross when he writes, “I am poured out like water … my heart is like wax, it is melted within my breast; my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws” (v. 14-15). And we can picture the soldiers around the cross when the psalmist says, “they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots” (v. 18).
The first part of this psalm ends with the desperate plea for divine deliverance: “But you, O Lord, do not be far away! O my help, come quickly to my aid!” (v. 19).
But then around v. 21, the psalm takes a sharp turn, a complete 180. It turns totally around and heads in the opposite direction. Instead of praying for the Lord to help him and deliver him, the psalmist now praises God for having heard him, for having helped him and delivered him. “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” (v. 24).
And then the whole rest of this psalm resounds in praise at the prospect that “all the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him” (v. 27). Not just the living but the dead – “all who sleep in the earth” – as well as those who are “yet unborn” shall bow and praise him. “Future generations will be told about the Lord” (v. 30). That’s us! That’s you and me! And our children and grandchildren, for generations to come!
Wow! What a difference from the first part of this psalm to the last! And what a difference to read this psalm today, during the Easter season, on this side of the cross, than on Good Friday!
But the fact is, we are always on this side of the cross. We are always on this side of the empty tomb. Even as we make our way through the Christian year every year, even when we may find ourselves in the midst of the season of Lent, we are still Easter people. We know where the story is going, and we know how this story ends. And so it’s important for us to remember how this psalm ends. It’s important for us to keep the whole psalm in view.
I want to think Jesus had the whole psalm in view when he quoted it from the cross. At least three of his so-called “seven last words” from the cross were quotations from the psalms. And I want to think he quoted the first verse with the whole thing – all the way through to the 31st verse – in his mind. Maybe it helped him make sense of everything he was experiencing. Maybe it helped him sense that he was not alone, that at least the psalmist had been there before him, and that the Lord God was right there beside him as well.
“Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother’s breast. On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God. Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help” (v. 9-11).
John Wesley saw the broad contours of the whole story of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and exaltation scoped out in these two halves of this whole psalm. Maybe we can see the contours of our lives scoped out in it as well.So wherever you may find yourself today – whether you see yourself more in the first half of this psalm or the second half, whether you are in a season of adversity or celebrating a deliverance, whether you are experiencing a time of affliction or comfort – I pray that you may see the whole psalm and come to find the story of your own life enveloped and enfolded somewhere within its broad embrace
We thank you, God, for the words of this whole psalm, words that Jesus borrowed to make sense of his own life and death and resurrection, words that we can borrow as well to help us see our own selves and to live our own lives in him and through him and for him. Amen.