“Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?”
Good Friday: March 29, 2013
Psalm 22 is a lament. Jesus, in his excruciating pain on the cross, uses the opening verse of this psalm of lament. This cry of Jesus, captured for us by the Gospel writers in Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34, is one of deep despair and abandonment.
There is something so human and so deep about this cry that, Good Friday or not, it continues to gnaw at the soul of one's being. This human complaint, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" is a choking cry from deep down in the psyche of the Psalmist, a place where he experiences the dark night of his soul. His lament, "Are you there, God?" becomes Jesus' own lament at his moment of betrayal, torture and desertion.
Countless others have asked this question in moments of deep despair: Are you there, God? For many, this question coming from Jesus is an uneasy one-discomforting and debilitating-because the image of God dying on the cross is unthinkable for some of us. We may not fully fathom the depth of this cry from Jesus' lips.
But innocent victims of systems of oppression have identified with this Jesus as someone who really understands their situation and stands in solidarity with the victims. This Jesus is no disembodied God for them. This Jesus puts religion on the ground. He is real. It is real that God is with the victim. God is there in solidarity with the victims of the world, the "crucified peoples" of the world.
Help at Dawn
The question is, "Are we there in solidarity with them?" It is the other side of the poignant question, "Were you there when they crucified my Lord?"
At the beginning of Psalm 22, the direction given to the leader is, "To the leader: according to the Deer of the Dawn." This suggests direction to the leader to sing this to the tune of the Deer of the Dawn. There is another interpretation. The Septuagint translation, a Greek rendering of the Hebrew Bible, says, "Concerning the help at dawn."
This interpretation, concerning help at dawn, assures the hearer and the reader that aid is there. God is already there. John Wesley saw in this psalm both the deep humiliation of Christ as well as his exaltation. Lament and praise.
Grace precedes the cross. Grace is help at dawn when it is the darkest. Help at dawn is also the resolute commitment to action, never to legitimize passive suffering and allow abusive situations to continue.
May we be the help at dawn! Cautioned that legitimizing passive suffering has disproportionately affected women, especially women in abusive relationships, may we stand in solidarity with this Jesus, who chooses to stand in solidarity with "the least of these."
It is also time to renew our covenant with God using a timeless Wesleyan prayer:
I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.
Glory E. Dharmaraj, Ph.D., is the retired director of spiritual formation and mission theology for United Methodist Women.