The verses of Psalm 22, the Responsorial Psalm for Palm Sunday, are chillingly prophetical. The description of the terrible events of Jesus’ final hours is amazingly accurate. Jesus is feeling completely abandoned by God, void of any consolation from his Father. He has endured sorrow, terror, humiliation, mockery, agony, and apparent defeat. His heart is being torn apart and he cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
In the movie The Princess Bride, Inigo Montoya is searching for the man in black, a mysterious stranger, to whom he had lost in battle but respected. The man in black had spared his life and Inigo was convinced that he was the only one who could help him. Suddenly he hears a loud, sustained, horrific scream of agony. The man in black was having his life drained from him. “Do you hear that, Fezzik?”, he said to his friend, “It is the sound of ultimate suffering. My heart made that sound when my father was killed and the man in black makes it now….”
Few hearts escape having to make the sound of ultimate suffering; the loss of someone dear, the destruction of trust, the groan that surges forth from the abandonment you feel when it seems as if everyone has turned away from you, including God. It is the black hole of despair that even the lights of heaven cannot penetrate. It is being in dire need of some consolation and finding none. “I look to the right to see, but there is no one who pays me heed. I have lost all means of escape. There is no one who cares for my life.” (ps. 142)
Saint Alphonse de Ligouri relates a story about Saint Francis of Assisi. A man came across Francis sitting and crying loudly. He asked him why he was weeping and Francis replied, “I weep over the sorrows and disgraces of my Lord: and what causes me the greatest sorrow is, that men, for whom he suffered so much, live in forgetfulness of him.” Francis began to cry even harder so that the man sat down and began to cry with him.
Fezzik heard the sound, as did the dozens of people walking about the streets, but none of them recognized it. To them it sounded like a roar. They stopped for a moment but when they couldn’t identify it they continued on. Only Inigo knew what it was. His intimate experience of the sound of ultimate suffering made him so tuned in to the vibrations of the sound that his heart vibrated sympathetically like the second tine of a tuning fork.
The good news is that God does not abandon. He does not turn away, nor will he ever leave us alone. We only hear part of the psalm on Palm Sunday. The whole psalm weaves back and forth from despair to confident defiance. We can see the psalmist bracing his flagging heart to embrace what is to come: “And I will live for the LORD; my descendants will serve you. The generation to come will be told of the Lord that they may proclaim to a people yet unborn the deliverance you have brought.”
The Jews gathered there would have recognized the psalm and been able to recite it by heart so that when they heard Jesus cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” they would have known how it ends. Even with his last breath, the sound of ultimate suffering, Jesus triumphs.