Friday, April 2, 2010

"My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" Descending into the Netherworld on Good Friday

The words of Jesus on Good Friday are haunting:

"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
(Matthew 27:46)

Those are the words of despair, desolation, agony, isolation and death. Yet there are more words beyond those.

The words are intended by the gospel writer to point us to Psalm 22. Those familiar words about being forsaken come the start of the psalm, but that is only the starting point. The psalm represents a journey, an agonizing journey to be sure, and at the end there are words of hope.

Psalm 22 is assigned for today in our lectionary, and I've been reflecting on it this morning using Robert Alter's masterful translation. The psalm begins this way in Alter's translation:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Far from my rescue are the words that I roar.
My God, I call out by day and You do not answer.
by night--not stillness for me.
Those are the words of the condemned, the lonely, the dying. The psalm continues with cries about being betrayed, using "curs" (dogs) as a metaphor for evil circling the condemned. But then the psalm emerges from the darkness, declaring how the LORD finds even those who are dead in the depths of the earth. Listen to how Alter translates these final verses, for they speak of salvation across time and space:
For the LORD's is the kingship--
and He rules over the nations.
Yes to Him will bow down
all the netherworld's sleepers.
Before Him will kneel
all who go down to the dust
whose life is undone.
My seed will serve Him.
It will be told to generations to come.
They will proclaim His bounty to a people aborning,
for He has done.

Book notes: The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary, by Robert Alter, 2007, W.W. Norton & Co.

Art of the crucifixion by Marc Chagall

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