Good Friday - The Weight Of A Wedding

I don’t know why "YMCA" is such a hit at weddings, but I don’t think I’ve ever been to one where that song hasn’t been played at the reception. Full disclosure: I wasn’t invited to a wedding before that song was actually released and I realize there were at least several.

Wedding songs are a part of the wedding experience.

They get people moving, get people dancing, get people celebrating. Music is the engine of celebration when it comes to receptions. It’s not unusual for people to actually talk about the quality of DJ in the same breath as they do the beauty of the ceremony.

So, why talk about wedding music on Good Friday?

Great question! It’s because as Jesus struggled for breath on the cross, he quoted one. Well, he quoted a re-write of one, a remix.

Psalm 22 is a part of the Good Friday liturgy because it is what Jesus cried out, "My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?" Sure, the messiah dying on a Roman cross may say those words because he felt them, but the way Jesus does so also gives the moment roots; roots that sink deeply into the hearts and history of the people who watched him as he fought for every moment of life.

The psalm itself is a song that leads the worshipper in suffering, pain and abandonment, into a heart space where God can again be praised. It’s quite artful, and pointedly honest more so.

For the crying out moment to have the full weight, the full impact, you have to read the part we always skip when we read the Psalms: the introduction. Lots of Psalms have introductions. They tell us who wrote the song and sometimes why they wrote it. Sometimes, they share the music it was based on.

Psalm 22, we are told in the preface, is based on a song called "The Deer of the Dawn." There is a lot of scholarly discussion about the title. It can have several variations, but "Deer of the Dawn" is as good as any. Then, there is a lot of argument about what the "Deer of the Dawn" actually is. In my personal studies, I agree with those who put forth that the song is a wedding song that praises the bride.

We can only guess what the original lyrics were, but they probably didn’t open with "My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?" That wouldn’t get the room moving, unless it was for the door.  

Can you imagine how jarring it would have been to hear the musical intro for the familiar wedding tune and then be struck by a gut-wrenching re-write of the lyrics? Like hearing the opening piano riff of Billy Joel’s "Just The Way You Are," but a heavy metal screamo voice comes in singing, "You left me! You left me! How can I live nooooooooOOW?"

Same affect.

This Psalm was meant to get our attention, to jar us, to shock us out of our religious complacency. The crucifixion of Jesus is not for the religiously complacent.

At the sound of his words, the Jews who had moved rhythmically through life and temple life would have immediately felt the shockwave of what he was saying. He was honestly crying out and he was deliberately connecting the moment to the whole history of Israel: its grief, its pain and its hope.

They were, after all,  a people still waiting for a Savior.

There is a treasure trove of hope for us in the song as well. Listen as the Psalmist sings in verse 2: "My God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, by night, yet I have no rest. But you are holy…"

Those words echo don’t they?

But you are holy.

God, some things don’t have to be right with me for all things to be right with you.

Isn’t it just like Jesus to take a moment as tragic as his own death and shine a light on the faithfulness of God? Remember, when Jesus said these words, "My God, My God, Why have you abandoned me?" these were song lyrics and the song would have started to play in the minds of the people who heard him.

Like when someone Rick rolls you and you can’t get "Never Gonna Give You Up" out of your head for the whole day.

It would be easy to spend too much time on this Psalm, but there’s one more thing I want to point out to really experience the crucifixion moment. Embedded in Jesus’ outcry, there is a statement so final, so hope filled, so imminent, it can’t be ignored.

The way the song ends is like this:

"Their descendants will serve him;
the next generation will be told about the Lord.
They will come and declare his righteousness;
to a people yet to be born
they will declare what he has done."
  vv. 30-31

As Jesus calls out to his Father, and the song begins, it’s impossible not to hear how the Psalm resolves with these words, "This is not over!"

These last verses tell the worshipper that no matter how bad things get, God’s love, power and action on earth will be known, even to those who don’t yet exist. What the Lord has done will reach into the future, unhindered.

It’s so cool. When Jesus presses play on this song in the hearts of those around him, the whole history and hope of salvation is set loose on the hill where he will die, crucified by religion and empire.

But the truth is inescapable: This is not over. Death is not the end. Sunday is coming!

And all due to a wedding song. We know that Jesus was no stranger to weddings. Interesting that this sorrowful, antagonizing, brutal and dehumanizing death on a cross would bear this kind of weight.

The weight of a wedding.

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