Psalm 22 is usually associated — largely due to the quote, ‘My God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ — with the shadows of Good Friday and such times of lamentation about our estate. Here, it follows a similar hand-wring from the book of Job. So someone is trying to get our attention. Well there’s plenty of ammunition for those thoughts around our chaotic world, and no doubt personal regrets to confess.
These themes unalloyed however, while not to be ignored, are insufficient for a weekly gathering. They need an answer, a ray of light.
Entering Paris recently by barge on the River Seine, we had a great view of the Tour Eiffel and city highlights. But after razzle-dazzle come cooler airs; the barge turned into the narrow Canal St Martin, running north through the Marais area which was, after all, a marshland and thus suitable allegorical fare for any pilgrim’s progress.
There was more to come. The waters disappear under the boulevards and fashionable houses for a couple of kilometres through a dark, damp tunnel. The sun disappears. The noise is silenced. Quite a change from the brilliance and bustle of the City of Light.
Then from somewhere a few rays of light appear. The barge slides slowly under circular vents in the old stone and brick roof, through which — surprise; a view of the sky and leafy trees in the streets around the Place de la Bastille.
These vents glide overhead in pairs until the light at the end of the tunnel appears. Glimpses of the world above, promises, without access to the higher plane itself.
It’s quite a strange experience, somehow rekindling a sense of wonder, of hope and some kind of connection between the worlds of still darkness and vibrant liveliness. We are still in touch with life.
Thus, Psalm 90, our second set psalm, serves to connect the forsaken feelings of Job and the psalmist with promise and light:
So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart. Turn O God. How long? Have compassion on your servant. Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, so we may rejoice and be glad in all our days (Ps 90:12-14)
A promise, a prayer, a connection, if not the full state of grace. Maybe the two psalms should be together, rather than alternatives, so that in times of darkness we can still feel hope, in touch with life and people.