by Rev. Daniel Wray
Read Psalm 22:23-31.
My freshman year of college was a year after Hurricane Katrina devastated the gulf coast. Conditions in these areas were still desperate, and my home church in Richmond decided to go to Gulfport, Mississippi to help in the recovery. While there we worked on the house of a wonderful man named Leo.
Each day as we worked Leo and his brother would be there with us telling us stories about their family, their community, and about the hurricane. There were some stories of joy and praise, but a majority of the stories were simply heartbreaking. I remember one story in particular of a family climbing to the roof to escape the rising waters. After making sure the rest of his family was securely on the roof, the husband was the last to attempt and climb. As he climbed, the waters surged, sweeping him away, and his mother watching from the roof, was so overcome with grief that she had heart attack and died as well.
Throughout the week we heard tragic stories like this daily. So it came as such a shock when on our last day there, Leo and his brother cooked for us a wonderful Cajun meal, and then sang Amazing Grace for us as we ate. As the notes bellowed from the depths of their stout bodies, tears fell from their eyes. In the midst of all of their pain and affliction, they were able to sing praise to God.
It can seem odd that someone could sing praise to God after they had lost so much. After hearing those painful stories all week, a song of praise was the last thing on my mind. On that day, Leo and his brother were a living embodiment of Psalm 22. This psalm starts with the words we hear from Jesus on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” These are words of pain and desperation from the psalmist. They are words that express helplessness and a sense of abandonment by God.
It is surprising then that as the psalm progresses it becomes a song of praise. Like Leo and his brother gathering us together in fellowship and worship, the psalmist calls all from every nation and every generation to gather in praise of the Lord Even the dead will worship the God of all nations and praise is to be on the lips of the people for generations to come.
It is difficult in times of pain and suffering to offer up words of praise to God. Sometimes like the psalmist we too want to cry out to God “Why have you forsaken me?” What still stands out to me about that holy day with Leo, is that God can turn stories of pain into songs of praise. This does not diminish the pain or the heartbreak, but as we gather together in praise we are reminded that we are not forsaken, that as John Wesley reminded us in his dying words, “Best of all, God is with us.”
Daniel Wray is pastor of the West Campbell Charge in Altavista, VA. He blogs at wrayofhope.blogspot.com.