Psalm 22, Good Friday 2 Apr 21

Good Friday is traditionally and appropriately a minimalist quiet moment of reflection. This psalm text, a harbinger of the dark moments in the story of Jesus, captures the mood perfectly. It seems permanently consigned to this ritual by virtue of Jesus’ quoting it on the cross: ‘Why have you forsaken me?’ Then also the predictions:

They pierce my hands and my feet (16) They divide my garments among them; they cast lots for my clothing (18)

Admittedly, it’s a dark day and there is plenty of angst running through the song. However, it only takes two verses before David, to whom the song is attributed, turns to recognise the holiness and greatness of the divine spirit. He flings out declarations of the many ways in which this eternal love has protected the psalmist against all sorts of evils — the sword, wild bulls, lions, even packs of dogs.

Deus, Deus meus, respice in me, Psalm 22:1 in the Luttrell Psalter, c. 1330. British Library Add MS 42130 folio 42r. Note the tiny ’21:’ at margin left of illuminated capital D, indicating Psalm 21 in the Vulgate numbering.

Positive thoughts also appear, spirited reverence for divine sway over the creation and all nations, and a call to praise, not only for this understanding but also that this is the same God who: … did not despise the suffering of the afflicted one (or the poverty of the poor); nor turn away from me, but heard when I cried (v. 24)


A setting by Christopher Willcock in Together in Song No 9 is an easy choice for the Good Friday occurrence of this psalm. [We shall hear a minimalist version of this at Woden Valley Uniting this Friday. TiS 334 will be included too.]

At other times, a refrain from Psalms for all seasons 22D (the alternate refrain and tone) might be preferred — unlike the Willcock chant, this refrain does not rehearse the ‘forsaken’ or abandoned theme. Instead, the refrain forms a response to the comfort expressed in verse 24 above: All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord. (27)

Incidental music could include My God, look upon me, a lovely setting of Ps.22:1-3 by John Blow (1649-1708). Basses enter first with the theme tune, followed in turn by T, A then S for 60 bars of classic restrained imitation.

Incipit to SATB motet on Psalm 22:1-3 by John Blow (1649-1708) Listen>

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