Coemgen was accustomed all his life through the severity of his asceticism to spend every Lent in a wattled pen...and he would spend a fortnight and a month thus. And one Lent when he was acting in this way, a blackbird came from the wood to his pen, and hopped on his palm as he lay on the flag-stone with his hand stretched out; and he kept his hand in that position, so that the blackbird built its nest in it, and hatched its brood...Coemgen said the pain of his hand being under the blackbird till she hatched her clutch was little compared with the pain which his Lord suffered for his sake...
- The Monk Solomon, Life of Coemgen of Glendalough, Irish, 18th century from a contemporary ms.
…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
- Philippians 3.10, 11
That phrase the fellowship of His sufferings is easily overlooked. Paul desired to know Jesus, to know the power of His resurrection, and to know the fellowship of His sufferings. Knowing Jesus is good, and so is knowing His power. But His sufferings? What could Paul mean by this?
Psalm 22 provides an insight to this mystery, but first, let’s look at Coemgen.
Coemgen (also known as Kevin) was praying cross-vigil (crosfigell in Gaelic). While most often, Celtic saints practiced this discipline standing, Coemgen was stretched out on the flagstone in the form of a cross. He persisted in that posture, with considerable pain, while blackbirds built a nest in his hand, laid their eggs, hatched their chicks, and fledged them.
Did he really? Probably not. Irish historians, like the monk Solomon, were poets and storytellers, and they used conventions common to their day. This little vignette was Solomon’s way of showing that Coemgen was a man of prayer, that he prayed often and long, and that he suffered in prayer for those in his charge. He labored in prayer, aching in his soul and body on behalf of his monks and others, and this quaint anecdote is meant to encourage all readers likewise to enter the sufferings of Christ.
The psalms were given, in part, to guide us in our own prayers. In Psalm 22 we find Christ praying in agony, but His agony turns to triumph when a new world is “fledged” through His suffering (vv. 22-31). As we pray this psalm, we enter the sufferings of Jesus and glimpse the birth of a new era, not unlike what Coemgen experienced, and what Paul longed to know.
There’s something to this practice of crosfigell. If we had a greater appreciation for how much Jesus suffered, bearing our sins in His own body on the cross, we might be a little less willing to add to that suffering, as it were, by persisting in sin.
We can enter the sufferings of Jesus with such prayers as Psalms 22, 31, 34, 69, and 88. All these psalms were on Jesus’ mind – and lips – as He hanged on the cross. As we pray them, we enter the sufferings of the Lord, interceding for His people and celebrating the victory of His death and resurrection.
Pray through Psalm 22. In verses 1-21, let the agony Jesus experienced settle into your soul. Admit your role in inflicting that pain, repent of any sins that come to mind, and vow to add no more to Jesus’ sufferings.
As you pray, stand and raise your arms in the position of cross-vigil. Soon – quite soon, actually – you will begin to feel the pain in your shoulders and arms, pain that cannot compare with, but certainly bears witness to, the pain Jesus endured for our sins. Let that pain be for you a convicting and renewing experience – convicting, for your pain is the pain you have caused Jesus; renewing, because by His pain and suffering we are hatched, fledged, and set free to fly in His Spirit and love. Share in His suffering; soar in His forgiveness.
Then linger on the last clause of verse 21: “You have answered Me.” And how did God answer Jesus? By what follows in verses 22-31 – the coming of the Kingdom, the banishing of darkness, and the dawn of a new era of revival, renewal, and awakening!
How fitting that David set Psalm 22 to the tune of a folk song called, “The Deer of the Dawn.” This psalm, which begins in the darkness of suffering and death, emerges into the dawn of a new era, as the burdens of our sin give way to the fledgling new life that is ours in Jesus Christ.
Paul longed to share in the sufferings of the Lord. Coemgen showed us how. The fellowship of His sufferings awaits us, with all its pain and glory, as we take up the Lord’s own words and come to Him in prayer.
1. Paul said that suffering was a “given” of the Christian life (Phil. 1.29). Why should this be so?
2. How does suffering with Jesus in prayer “birth” us into a greater experience of His life?
Psalm 22.23-25 (Darwall: Rejoice, the Lord is King)
All you who fear the Lord, now praise His holy Name!
You children of the His glorious Word, declare His fame!
We stand in awe of our eternal God, and on His mercy call.
For He has not despised the anguish of our King,
nor from Him hid His eyes, Who knew such suffering.
Let praise arise from all who love and serve the Ruler of the skies!
Lord, forgive me for all the times I foolishly add to the pain I've already caused You. Thank You for your grace and love. Help me to be willing to suffer for You today as I…
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T. M. Moore
All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 Plummer, p. 155.