The Psalms of Holy Week
On Good Friday I want to take extra time to meditate on Psalm 88. I had no idea that I would discover harsher realities about Jesus’ journey to the cross than I already knew from the Bible. On my recent trip to Jerusalem, when we were retracing the steps of Jesus, we walked into a place I had never heard of before. It is not described in any of the Gospels. I walked into a cistern that served as a holding cell in Jesus’ time. Since it was right by Caiaphas’ home and there were crosses etched in the walls, it is believed that Jesus may have been held in this place in the dark of night while they waited for morning to bring Him before Pilate.
My experience in the cistern prison was a sacred moment. I didn’t fully comprehend where I was going as we walked down the stairs. When we walked in, I immediately recognized the crosses etched in the walls, even though others had a hard time seeing them. I stood still in the crowded space and looked up to the small hole above as our pastor started to explain the tradition associated with this place. I imagined Jesus being lowered by a rope into this darkness. Then the pastor read Psalm 88 and my soul was bewildered that Jesus could love me so much that He was willing to go through all He did for me.
The Psalms help us face reality with faith. This week, the holiest week of our year, we open our hearts, minds and spirits to the solemn love that Jesus has for us. We need the Psalms to help us digest and express what our souls take in from the realities of Holy Week. Here are a few Psalms that help us know what a miniscule part of Jesus’ suffering:
- Psalm 41:9 Even my close friend, someone I trusted, one who shared my bread, has turned against me. (reality—Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss)
- Psalm 64:4 They shoot from ambush at the innocent; they shoot suddenly, without fear. (reality—Jesus’ trials, crucifixion; He was totally innocent)
- Psalm 35:11 Ruthless witnesses come forward; they question me on things I know nothing about. (reality—mockery of trials Jesus endured)
- Psalm 22:18 They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment. (reality—the guards gamble for his clothes)
- Psalm 22:8 He trusts in the Lord, they say, let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him. (reality—imagine the mocking and laughing from what is recorded at the cross)
- Psalm 69:3 I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. (reality—when He knew that it was finished ,He asked for drink from the cross)
- Psalm 69:21 They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst. (reality—hyssop branch with a sponge soaked in vinegar was put to His mouth)
- Psalm 22:16 -Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet. (reality—cross)
- Psalm 109:1-4 My God, whom I praise, do not remain silent, for people who are wicked and deceitful have opened their mouths against me; they have spoken against me with lying tongues. With words of hatred they surround me; they attack me without cause. In return for my friendship, they accuse me, but I am a man of prayer. (reality—Jesus praying while mocked)
- Psalm 38:11 My friends and companions avoid me because of my wounds; my neighbors stay far away. (reality-Jesus is deserted by the disciples)
- Psalm 109:25 I am an object of scorn to my accusers; when they see me, they shake their heads. (reality—Jesus is the object of mockery while on the cross)
- Psalm 34:20 He protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken. (reality—Jesus’ bones were not broken as was the custom, rather a spear put to His side to prove death)
- Psalm 22:1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish? (reality—this is what happened to Jesus on the cross!)
- Psalm 31:5 Into your hands I commit my spirit; deliver me, Lord, my faithful God. (reality—Jesus demonstrated and confessed these words from the cross)
- Psalm 22:14-15 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me. My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. (reality—Jesus’ experience of death)
- Psalm 118:15-17 Shouts of joy and victory resound in the tents of the righteous: The Lord’s right hand has done mighty things! The Lord’s right hand is lifted high; the Lord’s right hand has done mighty things! I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done. (reality—the truth of the resurrection!)
The Psalms were so much a part of Jesus’ last experiences on the earth. He had sung them that night in the upper room with the disciples (Matt. 26:30). Traditionally, the songs they sang on Passover were from Psalms 113-118, 136. During this Holy Week, you may want to turn to these passages in the Psalms that guide you to open your heart more fully to what Jesus went through for your salvation.
Almighty and everlasting God, who, of thy tender love towards mankind, hast sent thy Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ, to take upon him our flesh, and to suffer death upon the Cross, that all mankind should follow the example of his great humility: mercifully grant that we may both follow the example of his patience, and also be made partakers of his resurrection. Through the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. AMEN.
May you be blessed by the kindness, forbearance and patience of God this Lenten season!
Respond to Dr. Newman's article