Palm Sunday for some is the day when they are handed long palms at church with which they can bop their siblings on the head and show their prowess at creating neat little green crosses. It’s a day when they can sit down and listen to the Gospel because the long account of Christ’s death includes significant suffering in mind, body, and spirit.
Some of the last words Jesus speaks as he suffocates and dies on the cross are not what they seem. For quite some time, I thought when Christ cried out ‘“Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”’ (Matthew27:46) that He was feeling and experiencing a separation from God because He had willingly taken on all of our sins. My mom pointed out a Psalm that suggests this was not the case. It’s completely changed the way I see the moments before Christ’s death.
As any well-educated Jew at that time knew, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” is the beginning of Psalm 22. Even as he gasped for his last breaths, Christ was speaking of fulfilling the prophecies of old and bringing new hope. Psalm 22 is called “The Prayer of an Innocent Person.” It includes many allusions to the specific types of suffering Christ endured during his Passion.
For example, it says “All who see me mock me; they curl their lips and jeer; they shake their heads at me: ‘You relied on the Lord—let him deliver you; if he loves you, let him rescue you.’” (Ps 22: 8-9) This is precisely what happened when Christ was made fun of, called the King of the Jews, beaten, spit upon, and forced to wear a crown of thorns and a royal looking cloak as his tormentors insulted Him.
“As dry as a potsherd is my throat; my tongue sticks to my palate; you lay me in the dust of death” (Ps 22:16) describes his incredible thirst—one so strong for righteousness that He is willing to suffer the torture of humiliation and dehydration on the road to an even more painful death.
“They stare at me and gloat; they divide my garments among them; for my clothing they cast lots.” (Ps 22:18-19) and Matthew 27: 35.
In verses III and IV of Psalm 22 are words of hope, courage, conviction, faith, and praise. Why is this significant if Christ only uttered the first line? Well, let’s see. If you hear or read: “I pledge allegiance…” or “Our Father, who art in heaven…” does it call to mind the rest of the pledge or the prayer? It probably does.
In Christ’s final hour, He was calling to mind a Psalm the Jews would know in its entirety. With a single phrase, He got them thinking about 32 verses of Scripture that are so much more than a cry for help. For scholars of the holy book, this brought to mind a portion of the Torah that describes a person who is tortured in a number of ways, but who through it all trusts in God and knows that the suffering will ultimately result in God’s glory and inspire a long line of believers.
Think of this during Holy Week, and see how it changes your view of Christ’s Passion and Good Friday.
Note: All Scripture quotations are from the NAB translation.
Copyright © 2008 This post was written and originally posted on my former blog: March 11, 2008