Scripture Reading: Psalm 22
The Psalms have been faithful companions during this past year, favorites among them are Psalm 42, “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God...”, 121, “I lift up my eyes to the hills—from where will my help come?”, and 130, “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice!” A reflection of the human condition, these songs offer words of praise, joy, gratitude, lament, anger, doubt, and sorrow. Psalm 22 has been my most recent companion as I was asked to preach on it for Good Friday. As I meditated on the Psalm, some insights came to mind, and I share them with you.
First, Jesus, utters the words of the first verse from the cross. In his humanity, in his pain -like the psalmist- feeling the abandonment and loneliness of the cross, Jesus cries to God, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” These words shared from a place of deep sadness and despair might be familiar to us. We have experienced or are experiencing similar sentiments, and versions of these famous words are being pronounced, again and again, in different languages and from distinct voices these days. I sat with these words reflecting on how relevant they are; a look at the news or even outside our own front doors would suffice to see their relevance. In the midst of a pandemic, of social injustice and inequity, of misuse of power and mistreatment, of divisiveness and unkindness, how can these words not be echoes of a suffering world? Jesus, having experienced the cross, accompanies us in the places of sadness and despair where we find ourselves and where we find our most vulnerable siblings.
Second, back to the psalm, even in the midst of despair, the psalmist finds signs of hope. The following verses alternate between cries of despair and remembrance of God’s deliverance, and by the time we reach verse 24, the discourse begins to shift. “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.” From lament, to trust, to hope, to praise... Although the psalmist felt abandoned by God at some point, God didn’t leave him. This realization brought forth the last insight: How exactly did God deliver him?
The answer to this question is not in psalm directly, yet one could infer some kind of miracle was involved, supernatural or otherwise. It could have been a miracle in the form of literal salvation from a dangerous situation or a divine illumination, a coincidence that became an opportunity, a random visit that inspired acts of justice and kindness, or even intervention by a person, like you and me, who was then an instrument of God for deliverance and the miracle someone desperately needed. Sometimes we are so focused defining deliverance in the individual, spiritual sense only, that we forget its collective, yet also very spiritual, day-to-day meaning and implications that demand a response from us in the here and now.
I invite you to sit with the words of Psalm 22 and reflect on the “how” of God’s deliverance. Consider the part we all play in God’s salvific plan in this world, as God’s coworkers (1 Cor. 3:9). Jesus, our Savior and teacher is risen. He is our miracle. Following in his steps, may we become a miracle for others, and when we hear the world crying, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” in any version or language, may we respond confidently and humbly, “My sibling, I’m here. God has not forsaken you. God has sent me.”
—Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri, M.Ed.
Educator and Elder
Presbyterian Church (USA)
Vilmarie is a teacher and a Presbyterian ruling elder born in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She has served the PC(USA) at many levels including the session, presbytery, synod, and other church groups, such as Presbyterian Women. Most recently, Vilmarie served as Co-Moderator of the 223rd General Assembly (2018-2020). She has dedicated most of her adult life to education and training, primarily teaching English to high-school students and adults from all over the world. Vilmarie lives in Florida with her husband, the Rev. José Manuel Capella-Pratts.