Agony and Ecstasy

Good Friday
St. Paul United Methodist Church
Psalm 22:1-5, 14-15, 27-31
The Rev. Dr. Stephen Caine

Psalm 22
22: 1My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
2O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.
3Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.
4In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.
5To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.
14I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast;
15my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.
27All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.
28For dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations.
29To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him.
30Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord,
31and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.

Let us pray: In this holy time, as we remember the sacrifice of the cross, we pray to you, our Grieving God, for on the cross your Son embraced death even as he had embraced life: faithfully and with good courage. Grant that we who have been born out of his wounded side may hold fast to our faith in him exalted and may find mercy in all times of need. Amen.

Holy Week services seem to be the most theologically honest and emotionally raw worship services of the Christian year. We enact the Gospel and confront the darkness of human sin and human suffering in, brutal and honest truth. Holy Week from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday compress in miniature; all of life and all of Jesus’ life. Joy and disappointment, loss and hope, suffering and redemption, death and life. Somehow these services enact through word and deed, in song and in silence, the greatest mystery of our faith — that in the midst of death God offers new life before we reach the glorious wonder of Easter morning we must journey through the Passion of Christ.

Psalm 22 is a microcosm of Holy Week with ups and downs, abandonment and the comfort. A Psalm of Lament that begins in the dark as we are caught in the midst of the darkness and the gore of this week. Jesus is crying out in his agony on the cross, the famous words of the 22nd Psalm: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Hear the cry of the Psalmist, hear some of the final words of Jesus Christ on the cross. Feel the anxiety of being alone, abandoned, isolated, afraid, absolutely scared to death. We hear these words today and we make the connection between this Psalm and the words of Christ on the cross. Jesus who is utterly alone, at the brink of death, filled with fear, and intense pain. He cries out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” resonates with everyone who has ever suffered and hurt and been in pain and wondered “how can God love me and yet allow this to happen?”

In the midst of pain and suffering we believe that we are all alone, abandoned and left to die. That God is gone.

So, it is almost impossible for us to read this psalm on Good Friday without calling to mind the events of Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross. The passion of Christ how fully and completely Jesus entered into the suffering of all humanity, taking the sin, the evil and the brokenness of all humanity upon himself. Jesus took on the sorrow, the loneliness, and the abuse on the cross. Soldiers gambled for his clothes. Passersby jeered at him. Enemies sought his life. And God remained silent.

He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”

The darkness of this day and of Psalm 22 reminds us that our faith is not based on an easy triumphalism. We don’t go from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday we have to go through Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Christ’s betrayal, his suffering and death are real. We must acknowledge that he stared sin and evil in the face and put them to death in his own body. Psalm 22 gives us a glimpse of what our redemption cost God, as his only Son submitted to the excruciating journey of the Via Dolorosa all the way to his brutal death on the cross.

What wondrous love is this?
What greater demonstration of love can there be than that God, the creator of the universe, the sustainer of all things and the lover of humankind, would lay down his life for us? Sinful and broken and confused people, like us.

That is why we need Good Friday! A brutal reminder of this sacrifice, a loving reminder of God’s grace. A day to join with Jesus in his fierce grief and sorrow over the sin of the world, to lament the forces of evil and cry out to God to bring healing to our broken and hurting world. Through the cries of Psalm 22, we are reminded the evil that still plagues our world and that sin still resides in our hearts and so we lift up our voices in lament, awaiting the day when God will finally bring an end to sin, death and Satan.

So here we are on the darkest day of the Christian year, Good Friday 2016, with our focus on the cross, an instrument of death but is also for us as Christians, a symbol of hope, of forgiveness, of salvation, of healing and of life. The psalmist never gave up on his faith and believed that God would continue to work in his life, even in the darkest moments when God seemed to be absent and silent. It is perhaps in those moments in our own lives that we most need our faith that we can cry out as the Psalmist did and as Tony Campolo is famous for saying, “I know it is Friday but Sunday is coming!”

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