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Psalm 22:23-31

We are familiar with Psalm 22 in other contexts, especially that of Good Friday where the whole psalm is set for worship. We know all too well its first line: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ It is reported in the Gospels as one of Jesus’ cries from the cross (Matt 27:46; Mark 15:34).

But today only the last part of the psalm is set, vv. 23-31. The psalm is the lament of an individual who has suffered greatly at the hands of those about him/her (cf. vv. 6-8, 12-18). Like most laments, the psalm ends with praise (or a vow of praise at least). It is that section of praise that we read today in vv. 23-31. The psalmist’s praise flows in vv. 21b-24 from the fact that the psalmist has been delivered from what sounds like terrible physical affliction, ridicule, and the active hostility of enemies. In their praise the psalmist goes on to say that they will tell the people about the God who delivers (v. 22) exhorting to join in praise of God (v. 23). But the psalmist’s praise does not stop with their community. ‘All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord’ (v. 27). Those long dead (v. 29) as well as generations yet to be (v. 30) will join in this worship and praise, hearing about the deliverance of the Lord. The psalmist will make their belief in the God of deliverance known to all, even to those who in many ways the psalmist cannot literally communicate. So infectious is the praise of God. It is difficult to imagine a wider expanse of God’s dominion than all of the past, present and future generations.

However, we cannot forget that such world-embracing praise arises only out of the psalmist’s earlier experience of pain and difficulty (vv. 1-2, 6-8, 12-21) and the experience of deliverance from those things. Genuine praise only comes when it is sung from the depths of suffering, the feeling of abandonment, and the hurt of isolation. It can only come as one sets such pain alongside remembrance of praise and trust in the past (vv. 3-5, 9-11) and meets God again in that uncertain place. In recent decades ferocious bushfires, persistent droughts and repeated flooding have ravaged parts of Australia. Similar disasters have struck in other parts of the world. Hope and the ability to delight again in God’s world after such experiences will come only as the community and individuals acknowledge the pain, hurt and loss that have come upon them, give voice to those dark things in the presence of God and know the One who shares the pain with them drawing them again to himself. Only praise that knows such places can really feed the poor and afflicted who remain with us (v. 26).

Suggestions for the use of the psalm in worship:

The verses at the start of today’s reading of the psalm lend themselves to a responsive call to worship such as follows. The congregational response to the leader is in bold italics.

I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
You who fear the LORD, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him;
stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
From you comes our praise in the great congregation.
During the intercessory prayers the congregation could respond with words adapted from v. 24 such as:
For he does not despise or abhor those who are afflicted;
he does not hide his face from them, but hears when they cry to him.
The blessing of the people at the end of the service could incorporate vv. 27-28:
All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD;
and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.
For dominion belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations.
And the blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
Be upon you now and forever.
Old Testament reading: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

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