Not Forgotten!

Reading: Psalm 22.23-31
A number of years ago I read an article on nursery rhymes. It drew attention to the number which are rather negative without a neatly resolved ending.

"Rock-a-bye baby", it was suggested, is the subversive work of a nanny who disliked her employers.

Then thereís "Humpty Dumpty" who ends up broken at the bottom of the wall - nobody at all can mend him. It may simply be a reflection on what happens when an egg rolls off the table onto the floor - demonstrated, perhaps, by the nanny? Or is it a more cynical comment on life where, contrary to many childrenís stories, they donít "live happily ever after"?

Psalm 22 begins, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent" (vv. 1-2).

These words were on the lips of Jesus on the cross (Mt. 27.46). In fact, so much of this Psalm is pertinent to his experience at that time. Little wonder it was on his thoughts.

"All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: ĎHe trusts in the Lord; let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in himí " (Ps 22.7-8). "My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me†in the dust of death. Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced†my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing" (vv. 15-18).

For Jesus, the unthinkable had happened. The sinless Son of God was, for that time, separated from the Father whose love he had shared from eternity. He experienced the reality of alienation - a pain far more severe than the physical pain and public shame of crucifixion.

We know, of course, that it wasnít the end of him. We know about Easter and the resurrection. We read that "for the joy set before him [he] endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Heb. 12.2). But that doesnít mean it was a "joyful" experience at all! The "joy" was what would come afterwards, after the pain and agony of that separation.

We donít know which of Davidís experiences gave rise to this Psalm. He felt himself at the limit of his endurance. But he didnít end up broken at the bottom of the wall with no hope of restoration - like Humpty Dumpty. In the concluding verses of the Psalm he calls on the congregation to join him in praise of the Lord.

"You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honour him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel! For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help" (Ps. 22.23-24).

He paints a picture of all the people - great and small - praising the Lord for his goodness. "The poor will eat and be satisfied; they who seek the Lord will praise him - may your hearts live forever!" (v. 26) "All the rich of the earth will feast and worship" (v. 29a).

The experience of human extremity was very real - will I make it through this time? Has God forgotten me?

A few years ago south-east Queensland suffered serious bush fires. A group of volunteer fire-fighters in the Beerwah area started a back-burning operation, but the wind changed and they were caught. They all ended up in the burns unit in the Royal Brisbane. One of them described the experience to me the next day. He couldnít start the four-wheel drive, trapping the other vehicle as well. Fire was all around them. Their two-way radio didnít seem to be working. The rubber bungs in the floor of the cabin had melted and flames were coming through. Their fire-proof clothes had caught alight. He tried to send out a message, "Mayday! Mayday! Weíre on fire!" and then "God help us!"

Thankfully all survived after an extended period of hospitalisation and my contact came to share his thankfulness for the presence and help of God in his extremity - and for the prayers of many people during his months of convalescence.

When have we faced the limits of our endurance? Are there others we see facing that kind of experience? God hasnít forgotten, though it seems like it at the time.

Prayer: Dear Lord, sometimes we have spent our days contentedly independent of you - and then thought you should be there to bail us out of trouble. At other times we have sincerely sought to follow you, but in a time of extremity have wondered if you have forgotten us. Help us to live with you day by day. Help us to remember Jesus who experienced that kind of pain for us. Give us wisdom in enabling others to trust you, no matter what. In Jesusí name, Amen.

Not Forsaken!

Where are you, God?
I need you now!
I just canít do it -
donít know how!
I had my ways
of living life -
theyíve always worked
until this strife!
I always coped -
I always knew -
or thought I did! -
just what to do.
I always thought
I had it made.
Iím thinking now
I need your aid.
My "always"
isnít working now -
where are you, God?
I donít know how!

A Man was dying
on a tree,
full crucified
for you and me.
His mouth was dry,
his pain intense.
Not one had sprung
to his defence.
His closest friends
had fled in fear;
his scheming foes
stood round to jeer.
"My God! My God!
Where are you now!"
In loneliness
to death he bowed.
That loneliness,
with God away,
he took for me,
my sins to pay.
And on the glorious
Easter morn
my fears can go,
my hope reborn!

Where are you, God?
My pain is real -
when will it end?
I almost feel
forsaken, yet
I see that Man -
that more-than-Man...
His nail-pierced hands,
his love that reaches
through my pain
and gives me hope
to live again.

Held by those hands
Iím moving on,
that I am not alone.

© Peter J. Blackburn, Burdekin BlueCare Devotions, 11 March 2003.
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, © International Bible Society, 1984.

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