The psalms are the language that God has given the church to pray, to sing, to speak his language back to him. Each Sunday, we have one psalm as a centerpiece of our worship time together at WIts' End. During this series of reflections on the Lectionary Psalms we will hear from people in our community as they think and pray through the upcoming psalm for that week.
This week's reflection is brought to us by Carrie Barnes. Carrie's warmth and kindness are a palpable and constant presence at Wits' End. Carrie works as a therapist and holds a masters degree in counseling. Her reflection is on Psalm 130.
In the Lenten season, we are moving toward the greater disruption of Holy Week. Its inherent disruption often feels like the shock (and exhilaration?) of immersing rapidly in freezing, cold water. Something we rarely do without some prodding. This song up-ends everything as well and deserves it's place in the weeks leading up to Good Friday and Easter. So in the spirit of playful, yet shocking exhilaration, are you ready to jump in with me? Or should I push you?
(I suggest reading through the text once, so you have it in you as we go.) Looking ahead to verse 3 in order to shed light on verse 1, we might notice that these are not just any depths of despair associated with a bad week/month/year... They are the hopeless depths associated with our sin, our separation, or our imminent and absolute death to be even clearer. The following is a hopeless death that was very real for me, it was the long, horrific moment preceding the fullest experience of grace I have ever known... I will offer it generally, in the form of a question because maybe you have experienced some form of this, too.
Have you ever known your sin (and its impact) so deeply and, in terror, faced it so squarely that you realized in the very pit of your stomach there is absolutely no way out of it, nowhere in this world or the next you can go to get away and nothing you can do to fix it?
Then have you felt the cold, empty 'face' of death seducing, "The only way is to be destroyed, to forfeit your life for a moment of reprieve"...one moment of relief that will never be realized because you know that you know in the deepest part of you that your sin will follow you into the pit of hell to continue torturing your soul? No violence toward yourself will nullify its effects, no amount of sacrifices to others will undo it, no denial will ever mute it. Death has already moved in.
This is the kind of depths we cry out from. It is not the quick "I'm sorry, please make this right so I can keep face" cry to God or, "yes, I sinned again, but it isn't too bad." It is the cry that presents our sin and death in all its wretchedness, all our shame, all our need and whatever mustard seed of hope that is left into the bloodied hands and body of Jesus. It is saying "yes" to the death of Christ entering every part of us. I repent. Then slowly we realize in the aftershock of release that there is something incredibly powerful and alive and stronger than anything we have ever known residing in our dry bones. A kind of protection against the insidiousness of death that cannot be undone and chooses not to leave.
So we sing the first part of this song: We cry out from the depths of our death to find the grittiest of grace has met us. We are awed by your power, Lord!
Now to verse 5, "I am counting on God, in his word I put my hope." What kind of hope is this? Well (maybe too simply or in the desire to temper the disruption once again) we might jump to the end of the story: We know our hope is Christ, the word coming from the mouth of God who has lived in our bodies, our world and overcome death with resurrection power.
But what if like the psalm, we are pre-resurrection instead? How might we know that kind of hope? And do we have to know what this 'word' is and does before we really get the hope piece?
The Old Testament overflows with this phrase: "hear the word of the Lord." It is usually followed by a prophesy revealing the power of God in a situation. Looking briefly at Ezekiel 37 (another of the lectionary texts this week), we learn what that 'word' does in the face of death:
He led me all around the bones; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, "Mortal, can these bones live?" I answered, "O Lord GOD, you know." Then he said to me, "Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: "I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the LORD."
We learn at least two amazing things here: Taking the WORD of the Lord in brings new life to what was really, really dead; and because of this resurrection power at work in our very sinews, we will know that He is God. We will know hope beyond hope. It is one thing to be raised to life again, it is another (and equally important) to know who it was that has raised our dry bones, entered our sin and made us live by the grace (death) of Jesus (the word made flesh) to know who our thankful heart, body, mind, soul and spirit can move toward in our joy, laughter, tears, desire, hope, need, fear, hunger and the list goes on and on.
And all of a sudden I'm caught in wonder. Could this be the movement of secure attachment, of re-attunement? Is this the river running under the words in verses 6-9, the one I long for more than the morning light?
This ancient psalm is one of "ascent" moving toward Jerusalem in true worship. It is also moving toward the kingdom of God at hand. In the Lenten season, we live a new reality: we do not face the disruption of death alone. There is someone moving there before us, ready to catch us up in his own death and deliver us from evil into the unfailing love of the Almighty. This is our song, the one that sings out: The breath of God has and is entering our dry bones; Jesus' death keeps on delivering us out of the absolute hopelessness of the death we know; and grace, oh sweet Grace she offers us not only Christ's resurrection power, the kingdom of God at hand within us, but a sweet, secure (hope-filled) attachment to the One who holds us in unfailing love through his never-ending, great power to redeem!
Imminent. Absolute. Amazing.
We are loved by the One who has chosen to make all things new.