Charlie Mackesy makes the striking decision to use a medium without colour. His charcoal drawing suggests the ephemerality of the body it represents (‘melting like wax’). Christ’s left arm seems to dissipate at the wrist, and the lines defining the contours of the body are difficult to fix. On Christ’s left side his body is mirrored behind him, like an after-image, as if the body is fading into the air, or impressing that air with Christ’s human form. It is as though not only Christ’s heart melts like wax (Psalm 22:14), but his entire body.
But what is most arresting about this drawing is Christ’s posture: he is not slumped in exhaustion nor limp in death, as so often in the art of the crucifixion. Indeed, his hands (and maybe his feet too) are no longer fixed to the cross at all. With his back arched and head thrown back (rather than lolling forward), one feels that Christ is being lifted up from the cross chest first. This Christ seems poised to bypass the grave and go straight to the ascension.
It is this posture that converses so fruitfully with verse 19 of the Psalm. Here, in a surprising shift, there is an announcement that out of the dark despair of the earlier eighteen verses, hope is able to spring. The ascension of the crucified Christ recontextualizes and reinterprets the cross much as the final section of the Psalm recontextualizes and reinterprets its beginning. The cross, as it is eclipsed by the body of Christ, becomes a path to glory, a jumping off point for the triumphant hero.
This drawing therefore presents a sign of victory that is neither simplistic nor apologetic. There is purpose to the cross, and this work reveals an inner dynamic that may also help us to discern what animates the Psalm: the character and purposes of the God who hearkens to the afflicted and redeems the lost. Just this dynamic connects the beginning of the Psalm to its triumphant ending—beyond every sense of abandonment, the one who trusts in the Lord may expect resurrection and ascension.
22My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
Why art thou so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
2O my God, I cry by day, but thou dost not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.
3Yet thou art holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
4In thee our fathers trusted;
they trusted, and thou didst deliver them.
5To thee they cried, and were saved;
in thee they trusted, and were not disappointed.
6But I am a worm, and no man;
scorned by men, and despised by the people.
7All who see me mock at me,
they make mouths at me, they wag their heads;
8“He committed his cause to the Lord; let him deliver him,
let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”
9Yet thou art he who took me from the womb;
thou didst keep me safe upon my mother’s breasts.
10Upon thee was I cast from my birth,
and since my mother bore me thou hast been my God.
11Be not far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is none to help.
12Many bulls encompass me,
strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
13they open wide their mouths at me,
like a ravening and roaring lion.
14I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax,
it is melted within my breast;
15my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue cleaves to my jaws;
thou dost lay me in the dust of death.
16Yea, dogs are round about me;
a company of evildoers encircle me;
they have pierced my hands and feet—
17I can count all my bones—
they stare and gloat over me;
18they divide my garments among them,
and for my raiment they cast lots.
19But thou, O Lord, be not far off!
O thou my help, hasten to my aid!
20Deliver my soul from the sword,
my life from the power of the dog!
21Save me from the mouth of the lion,
my afflicted soul from the horns of the wild oxen!
22I will tell of thy name to my brethren;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise thee:
23You who fear the Lord, praise him!
all you sons of Jacob, glorify him,
and stand in awe of him, all you sons of Israel!
24For he has not despised or abhorred
the affliction of the afflicted;
and he has not hid his face from him,
but has heard, when he cried to him.
25From thee comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
26The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek him shall praise the Lord!
May your hearts live for ever!
27All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the Lord;
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before him.
28For dominion belongs to the Lord,
and he rules over the nations.
29Yea, to him shall all the proud of the earth bow down;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
and he who cannot keep himself alive.
30Posterity shall serve him;
men shall tell of the Lord to the coming generation,
31and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,
that he has wrought it.