Good Friday – April 19, 2019
+ Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +
My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
I groan in prayer, but help seems far away.
2 My God, I cry out during the day, but you do not answer,
and during the night my prayers do not let up.
3 You are holy; you sit as king
receiving the praises of Israel.
4 In you our ancestors trusted;
they trusted in you and you rescued them.
5 To you they cried out, and they were saved;
in you they trusted and they were not disappointed.
6 But I am a worm, not a man;
people insult me and despise me.
7 All who see me taunt me;
they mock me and shake their heads.
8 They say, “Commit yourself to the Lord! Let the Lord rescue him!
Let the Lord deliver him, for he delights in him.”
9 Yes, you are the one who brought me out from the womb
and made me feel secure on my mother’s breasts.
10 I have been dependent on you since birth;
from the time I came out of my mother’s womb you have been my God.
11 Do not remain far away from me,
for trouble is near and I have no one to help me.
12 Many bulls surround me;
powerful bulls of Bashan hem me in.
13 They open their mouths to devour me
like a roaring lion that rips its prey.
14 My strength drains away like water;
all my bones are dislocated;
my heart is like wax;
it melts away inside me.
15 The roof of my mouth is as dry as a piece of pottery;
my tongue sticks to my gums.
You set me in the dust of death.
16 Yes, wild dogs surround me—
a gang of evil men crowd around me;
like a lion they pin my hands and feet.
17 I can count all my bones;
my enemies are gloating over me in triumph.
18 They are dividing up my clothes among themselves;
they are rolling dice for my garments.
19 But you, O Lord, do not remain far away!
You are my source of strength! Hurry and help me!
20 Deliver me from the sword!
Save my life from the claws of the wild dogs!
21 Rescue me from the mouth of the lion,
and from the horns of the wild oxen!
(Psalm 22:1-21, NRSV)
When I was growing up, it happened like clockwork. Every year on Good Friday, we gathered in a dimly lit church that seemed to get darker by the minute, and at some point during the service we read these words. I’d been around enough to know why we read the first verse of Psalm 22 – that was Jesus talking from the cross, as Mark records in this evening’s gospel reading – but why the rest of this? To be honest, as much as I have always loved Holy Week Psalm 22 was by far my least favorite part of any service. My blood ran cold at the agony in those words, at the pain I knew was behind them, and, as I always heard them in my mind coming from the mouth of Jesus, they always made me sad. I think my parents knew – or maybe they felt it too. The silence that shrouded the end of that service always lasted until we got back home, until we could get out of our Sunday best – and, at least in my mind – strip away the guilt that came from imagining Jesus’ suffering.
It occurs to me now that we were missing a big part of the picture whenever we recited this Psalm, because we always stopped at verse 21. I didn’t realize that at the time, even when I’d read ahead a bit on my own until the jarring change of tone stopped me in my tracks and sent me scurrying back to the uncomfortable but familiar language of those first verses. As much as I disliked it, this was how Good Friday was supposed to be. Melancholy, sadness, and guilt were the order of the day.
There’s a place for those emotions to be sure, but I’ve come to realize that there’s room for a wider range of emotions than just these. Yes, there is sorrow on this night when we remember how Christ suffered for our sake and for the sake of our world. But there is also comfort in the knowledge that his suffering and death were not meaningless. The abandonment and pain experienced by Christ is a mirror for all the grief and loss that you and I and the rest of humanity have experienced, are experiencing now, and will continue to experience. Because Christ suffered, God knows what it means to suffer. Because Christ was lonely, God knows the pain of loneliness. Because Christ died, death is no longer foreign to God. Perhaps most importantly, the cross of Christ does not represent the end of God’s life with us, but the beginning of our life in God. That’s why Psalm 22 doesn’t end in verse 21, but continues:
You have answered me!
22 I will declare your name to my countrymen!
In the middle of the assembly I will praise you!
23 You loyal followers of the Lord, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
All you descendants of Israel, stand in awe of him!
24 For he did not despise or detest the suffering of the oppressed;
he did not ignore him;
when he cried out to him, he responded.
25 You are the reason I offer praise in the great assembly;
I will fulfill my promises before the Lord’s loyal followers.
26 Let the oppressed eat and be filled!
Let those who seek his help praise the Lord!
May you live forever!
27 Let all the people of the earth acknowledge the Lord and turn to him!
Let all the nations worship you!
28 For the Lord is king and rules over the nations.
29 All of the thriving people of the earth will join the celebration and worship;
all those who are descending into the grave will bow before him,
including those who cannot preserve their lives.
30 A whole generation will serve him;
they will tell the next generation about the sovereign Lord.
31 They will come and tell about his saving deeds;
they will tell a future generation what he has accomplished.
(Psalm 22:22-31, NRSV)
This is the good news of Good Friday, brothers and sisters: that in Christ’s suffering our suffering is known to God, that because of Christ’s faithfulness the news of God’s faithfulness will be spread abroad, that through Christ’s dying and rising all things will be brought from death to life. And so, brothers and sisters, even as we call to mind the sorrow and suffering of our Lord, we can sing of the glorious battle that Christ has fought and won, and look with longing to the day of resurrection that is dawning on the horizon. May it be so among us. Amen.
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