The Palm Sunday Psalm is one of the choices in the Rite of Penance. In the ritual book, it is joined by Isaiah 53, the canticle of 1 Peter (used as a reading) and Mark’s account of the final prediction of the Passion. These texts are assigned to a “sample” liturgy that the appendix to the rite titles, “Penance prepares for a fuller sharing in the Paschal Mystery of Christ for the salvation of the world.”
A liturgy that uses these readings and this psalm might be scheduled for later in Lent or during Holy Week. It would certainly resonate with the goings-on in the liturgical year.
The refrain is given, “Father, your will be done.”
My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
Why so far from my call for help,
from my cries of anguish?
My God, I call by day, but you do not answer;
by night, but I have no relief.
Keep in mind that the Lord’s words from the cross were not a cry of anguish and abandonment, but suggest the entirety of the psalm. This is undoubtedly a lament, even without the Christian overtones. Do we see Jesus in this? Can we experience it, as the original psalmist surely did?
But I am a worm, not a man,
scorned by men, despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
they curl their lips and jeer;
they shake their heads at me:
“He relied on the LORD—let him deliver him;
if he loves him, let him rescue him.”
Sometimes such mockery wells up within us, testing us, and draining our own will into the depths.
I can count all my bones.
They stare at me and gloat;
they divide my garments among them;
for my clothing they cast lots.
But you, LORD, do not stay far off;
my strength, come quickly to help me.
Deliver my soul from the sword,
my life from the grip of the dog.
Save me from the lion’s mouth,
my poor life from the horns of wild bulls.
The lament concludes with an expression of faith: the psalmist, the persecuted, know that God has perfect power and will ultimately triumph. Sections III-IV of the psalm (verses 23-28) is included for the Rite of Penance. Most expressions of Biblical lament have just a brief note of praise at the conclusion. Here, the psalmist caps a wrenching expression of loss with a sparkling expression of joy:
Then I will proclaim your name to my brethren;
in the assembly I will praise you:
“You who fear the LORD, give praise!
All descendants of Jacob, give honor;
show reverence, all descendants of Israel!
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.
The poor will eat their fill;
those who seek the LORD will offer praise.
May your hearts enjoy life forever!”
Note that the lamenting believer is all alone in misery at the earlier verses, but here the psalmist is joined by not just present believers, but all of Israel. And in the brief final section, the whole Earth and all its peoples will come to God
All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the LORD;
All the families of nations
will bow low before him.
How does one get from an experience as a worm, totally outside of human dignity and recognition and arrive at universal salvation and worship of God?