“You have answered me.” Psalm 22:21
When I taught in the Oakland area, my friends and I often drove down the coast to Carmel by the Sea. There we enjoyed the 17-mile drive along the ocean, the Pebble Beach Golf Course, Mission Carmel, the shops, and the art galleries galore.
Some of the galleries had a second floor. One that I still remember featured a curved stairway to the second floor. On the way up, next to the stairs, was a solid figure suspended in mid-air, as if it was Jesus taken down from the cross, but looking upward. What was so memorable was only seen from above. As one descended, the radiant, smiling face of the figure captured one’s eyes. Pure joy was communicated to the observer. My companions and I were spellbound. When we finally spoke we all thought of the face of the Risen Jesus ascending to God who had raised him.
One wonders what Jesus experienced when God raised him – what was it like for Jesus? The gospel stories of his appearances to the disciples relate that he still retained his humanity, although glorified. He spoke to them and ate with them (Luke 24:36-43); Jesus even made them breakfast of bread and fish cooked over a charcoal fire (John 21:1-4).When He ate with them was it a todah, thanksgiving, meal. What prayers might the Risen Jesus have offered?
If we have followed Jesus as he entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, taught in the temple, ate the Last Supper with the disciples, and if we witnessed his confrontation with radical evil in the form of some self-righteous religious leaders handing him over to be executed by the Romans, we would be familiar with the words of Jesus from the Cross: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Mark 15:34). This is the first verse of Psalm 22, a lament familiar to us from the Good Friday liturgy. Verses 1-21 describe the sufferings of a person who experiences God’s abandonment amidst enemies; verses 20-21, a final prayer, often read:
Deliver my soul from the sword
my life from the power of the dog (20)
Save me from the mouth of the lion
my afflicted soul from the horns of the wild oxen! (21)
In verse 21 my afflicted soul is better translated from the Hebrew rather than the Greek or Syriac and would then read “You have answered me.” Poetically the line then reads as a parallel line. Thus:
Save me from the mouth of the lion
from the horns of wild oxen!
You have answered me!
With this assurance of God’s presence the psalmist then breaks out in a song of praise:
“I will proclaim your name to my brethren; in the assembly I will praise you.
You who fear the LORD, give praise! …
For he has not spurned or disdained the misery of this poor wretch!
Did not turn away from me, but heard me when I cried out.
I will offer praise in the great assembly;
my vows I will fulfill before those who fear him.
May your hearts enjoy life forever!
All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD;
All the families of nations will bow low before him. …
And I will live for the LORD; my descendants will serve you.
The generation to come will be told of the Lord,
that they may proclaim to a people yet unborn the deliverance you have brought.”
While the appearance narratives of the Risen Jesus do not present this song of praise from Psalm 22, such a prayer can be imagined as close to a prayer of the Risen Jesus. This would be in keeping with the prayer life of the first-century Jewish-Christians. Moreover, such a prayer could emanate from the radiant, smiling, joyful face of the figure we saw in the gallery in Carmel.
We too can offer thanksgiving prayers to God for raising Jesus, for affirming his beloved sonship, for delivering him from the power of evil, for assuring us that Jesus’ way is the way of righteousness, and that we too can follow the Risen Christ who continues to walk with us.