Give me justice, O God, and plead my cause against a nation that is faithless. From the deceitful and cunning rescue me, for you, O God, are my strength. (cf. Ps 42:1-2)
From this fifth Sunday, Lent focuses more specifically on Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and on his passion and death there. “As the time drew near for him to be taken up,” St Luke tells us, “Jesus resolutely turned his face towards Jerusalem” (Lk 9:51). Ahead of him lay treachery, arrest, a mock trial with false evidence, flogging, and grotesque death. The antiphon cries out against this, in a forceful plea for justice, help, and rescue. Jesus did not simply “go gentle into that good night”, to use Dylan Thomas’ phrase. He struggled against death, railed against injustice, cried out for rescue from faithlessness, deceit and cunning. The liturgy makes the words of the antiphon his words, a shout of frustration and anguish. At the same time they express his trust in God… my strength; trust that God can and will give… justice, can and will rescue from anguish. Jesus’ prayer will be answered, not by the removal of pain or by finding a way to dodge death, but by being sustained to enter into pain and death, to offer himself to God in faith, and by being raised up to resurrection and glory.
Like all antiphons, this antiphon is intended to be sung with verses of the psalm from which it is taken, the antiphon being repeated like a refrain between verses. Psalm 42 includes the words “I will go to the altar of God.” Sung today, these words speak clearly of Jesus’ intention to follow the Father’s will to the end. He is on the road to Jerusalem, and there will be his altar, the cross, the place of his offering himself to the Father on our behalf.
We can pray the words of today’s entrance antiphon for everyone in need, especially for all victims of gross injustice and betrayal. But primarily it is the voice of Christ that speaks here. All our prayers are taken up in his prayer, all our struggles are taken up in his struggle. United to his life-giving suffering, our suffering can be transformed into life and resurrection.
While we pray these words of the whole Christ, head and members, let us also check today that we, by our deeds, words and attitudes, are not among the nation that is faithless, not on the side of the betrayers of Christ, and let us take the necessary steps to rectify anything we may find wrong in ourselves.
Here is the Latin chant version of this antiphon:
You can listen to it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u-G9gJHpnS8
(The Graduale Project)
Sister Eleanor Campion’s series of reflections continues next week