A Prayer from the Cross

Psalm 22

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?

O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.

Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.

In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.

To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people.

All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;

“Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver— let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”


Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother's breast. On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God. Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.

Many bulls encircle me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me; they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion.

I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.

For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me. My hands and feet have shriveled; I can count all my bones. They stare and gloat over me; they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.


But you, O Lord, do not be far away! O my help, come quickly to my aid!

Deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the power of the dog!

Save me from the mouth of the lion! From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.


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!

For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.

From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him.


The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord. May your hearts live forever!

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.

To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him.

Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord,

and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.

In the summer of 1974, we learned that my grandmother had colon cancer. At that time, there were few options to treat it, and it was rare that anyone survived it. She did receive radiation treatments, which at the time were considered experimental and were no where near as successful as they are today. I was a seminarian in college, so I did the only thing I knew how to do, I prayed. I prayed for a miracle. I even took a class on methods of prayer, hoping that one of them would lead to a cure. But no miracle occurred and no healing happened.

My grandmother went from about 250 pounds to less than a hundred over the next nine months. Yet somehow, she was still filled with hope and faith in the Lord. I saw her during spring break, and she could barely walk, but she insisted on celebrating my birthday almost four weeks early that year and was carried to a chair in the dining room of her home. There a cake had been prepared by a friend using one of her favorite recipes. Throughout the celebration, everyone in the family assumed that this would be the last time we celebrated anything together.

After returning to college, I decided that if God would not grant me a miracle for my grandmother, I would not continue to study for the priesthood. I was so angry with God that on a dreary Sunday afternoon a couple of weeks after Easter, I went into the college chapel to tell God how I really felt. Somewhat afraid of God, I chose to pray Psalm 22. I looked around to make sure that no one else was in a chapel as I cried out in a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why do you not listen to my prayer?” When I got to the end of the psalm, where the psalmist promises that he will proclaim God’s praises, I doubted that that would happen. I was emotionally drained, that I fell asleep, sitting on the floor of sanctuary.

I’m not sure how long I slept, but when I woke up, it felt as if someone was holding me the way my grandmother had when I was a child, and a voice deep inside of me whispered, “Dennis, I know what it is like. Someone I loved once died, too.” And there, just a few feet in front of me was the image of the one God loved, who had died upon the cross. And together, God and I wept for those who died and were dying. Held in the arms of God, I cried out, “She’s suffered long enough. If you want her, she’s yours.” Then I got up and walked back to my room in the dorm. As I sat on the bed, I could hear the phone ringing down the hall. [This was a time when there were no cell phones and college dorms typically had only one phone on each floor.] Then someone knocked on my door. As I opened is, he said, “It’s your mother.” When I got to the phone, she told me that my grandmother had died five minute ago. Five minutes ago, I had told God, “If you want her, she’s yours.”

When I got the news, I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t, because I knew that she was now in the arms of the God who had just recently held me and comforted me.

I don’t know if you have ever heard the voice of God or been held in God’s comforting hands, but I know that the one who prayed the opening line of Psalm 22 on the cross in Mark’s and Matthew’s version of the passion, was with me that day and will be with you, too, when the cross comes your way. For nine months, I had thought that God had abandoned me. Hanging on the cross, Jesus did the same. But that day, I learned that God had been with me through it all, just as God had been with Jesus through it all. So now, I can proclaim God’s praises in the assembly of God’s people because I have experienced the power of the cross.