April 1, 2018
Rev. Fritz Nelson – First Presbyterian, Columbiana & First United Presbyterian, EP
Text: Psalm 22
The Marys walk to the tomb in darkness. Physical darkness, as the shadows were still deep; spiritual darkness as their hearts remain heavy, lost, alone – still reeling from a week where they watched Jerusalem’s religious and political authorities steal the one they loved – the one who gave them hope, meaning, purpose, life. Steal him from their lives.
The Marys walk to the tomb expecting to find death, defeat. Jesus last words may still be ringing in their ears, his last prayer may have become their prayer.
My God, my God, Why have you forsaken me?
As the women echo Jesus’ prayer, they echo the prayers of many who came before them, those who like Jesus turned to Psalm 22 in their anguish, those who didn’t know the psalm but echo it just the same. They foreshadow the prayers of many who will follow, the many who cry to the Lord out of their darkness, who in their despair can see little hope.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me; from the words of my groaning.
As Jesus prayed this psalm on the cross, he prays out the pain of his crucifixion.
The emotional pain:
Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.
The physical pain:
I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint
My mouth is dried up like a potsherd; my tongue sticks to my jaws
You, O Lord, lay me in the dust of the earth
Back to the emotional pain:
You, O Lord, do not be far away!
O my help, come quickly to my aid
Deliver my soul
As the Marys approach the tomb, surrounded by darkness, doing their duty, doing what had to be done, the ancient prayer rings in their ears.
Do not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted
Do not hide your face from me
Hear me when I cry
Maybe, just maybe the God who didn’t hear Jesus’ prayer – or didn’t bother to respond – but how could that be? How could a parent not respond to their own child? How could one who could summon the Spirit to raise others not be able to escape death himself? Maybe, just maybe the God who forsake Jesus would hear their own prayers. Praying seemed futile, but the prayer remained.
Lord, do not be far away
Deliver my soul
When praying seems futile the prayer remains. When all else seems lost, the prayer remains. Perhaps it’s a snippet of prayer we can’t get out of our heads – the basic prayers – “Lord save me,” “Our Father,” “Jesus loves me this I know.” Perhaps it’s the prayers of those around us who intercede for us when we no longer can pray for ourselves. Perhaps it’s the prayers of Christ who constantly prays on our behalf. Perhaps it’s the prayers of the divine self, whose goodness shines on us.
In the darkness, when all is lost, the prayer remains. The prayer remained as Jesus cried his last. The prayer remained as the disciples laid Jesus in his tomb. The prayer remained as Jesus’ followers wept and mourned and wondered what to do. The prayer remained as darkness closed in and refused to part.
The prayer remained as the woman walked to the tomb that Easter morning. Walked in darkness to find light. Walked anticipating death only to find life. Walked defeated by those who preached violence and hate, selfishness and greed; power and control only to find victory.
Around two-thirds of the way through Psalm 22 the cries for help transform to cries of rejoicing.
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted
He did not hide his face but heard when I cried.
The darkness of the world as we experience it transforms to the light of God’s new creation.
The poor shall eat and be satisfied
Dominion belongs to the Lord. He rules over the nations
Even the dead – those who sleep in the earth – bow down
Our unborn children will hear of God’s great work
Because He has Done It.
God did it. God does it. When the darkness closes in, when all seems lost, when prayer seems futile, when we feel abandoned, when we die – in spirit, in soul, in body – the prayers continue. Expecting death, we find life.
Or, as the song says, we live because he is risen.