A Cry of Anguish

A Reflection on Psalm 130 by Canon Rob,
26th March 2023, the Fifth Sunday of Lent

One of the library books which I have recently read is “The Half Life of Joshua Jones” by Danny Scheinmann. At times strange, at others amusing and disturbing. Joshua’s father had died in an accident whilst caving in Wales when Joshua was a child. His body was never found. When he is grown up, Joshua is given the helmet which his father was wearing and which had been recently found in the cave. Joshua feels compelled to go into the cave himself to the place where his father died. He wears his father’s helmet and clambers down. “A floodgate unlocked inside me and I began to cry…. I cried for the twenty five years of not crying….. I don’t think I have experienced a blackness so black.” How like the experience expressed in the first verse of today’s psalm: “Out of the depths have I cried to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice.” It is heartbreaking. It is also an experience which many have gone through, not least in a time of grief. To have one’s heart broken is the cost of love.

The author of Psalm 130 is grief-stricken, not because of the death of a loved-one but because he is overwhelmed by guilt. We are not told what sins he has committed, but they weigh very heavily upon him. In verse 1 he cries to the Lord to hear him, even from the deep and distressed place in which he finds himself: “…let your [the Lord’s] ears consider well the voice of my supplication.” In verse 2 we see that the author knows he deserves to be punished, especially if the Lord is keeping a list of all his sins. The Good News translation of verse 2 shows more clearly what would happen if God “kept a record of our sins.” It continues, “who could escape being condemned?” No wonder the writer of the psalm is in so much anguish!! Yet there is hope for him still. In verse 3 he expresses his belief that there is forgiveness with God. Perhaps this belief has come from the depths of his being too: the faith that God – who is often experienced in the Old Testament as a jealous, angry and judgemental God – is also a forgiving God. And this faith leads him to fear God: to reverence Him. There is light at the end of the tunnel. However, for those who, like the author of the psalm, have been in that deep, dark place, the tunnel may seem very long and when that is so, it is good, if possible, to remember that we are often called to be patient in hope. Verse 4 puts it this way: “I wait for the Lord; my souls waits for him; in his word is my hope.” In the dark place, time seems to stand still. Yet logically we know that it doesn’t do so. The clock continues to tick even when we cannot hear it. Verse 5 repeats the need to wait, using the example of a watchmen on duty. “My soul waits for the Lord, more than the night watch for the morning.”

Lent is our time for watching and waiting. As Paula Gooder says in her book, “Let Me Go There: The Spirit of Lent”:Being a disciple is more about spending time in the presence of Jesus, and learning to see the world as he sees it, than it is about checking off a ‘to-do’ list.”

The Writer of today’s psalm has clearly found the benefits of watching and waiting. For in verses 6 and 7 he encourages others to follow his example. “O Israel wait for the Lord, for with the Lord there is mercy; With him is plenteous redemption and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.” Until these verses, Psalm 130 is a personal plea for mercy. Now though, it becomes a call to the nation because he realises that all people sin. Perhaps there is another lesson for us here: as well as watching and waiting? Is it that our prayers, hopefully each day, might begin with personal devotion which then overflow into petitions for others? If so might our petitions be more heartfelt because we have learned a little more to see others as Our Lord sees them?

“O God, the healer of body and soul, send us your salvation and make us whole;
…and bring us to your holy throne to live for ever with you in glory.”

[From the prayer at the end of Psalm 38]

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Call to Worship

A Reflection on Psalm 95 by Canon Rob,
12th March 2023, the Third Sunday of Lent

If you are familiar with the Book of Common Prayer, you may remember using today’s psalm, headed “the Venite.” and set to be used each day, with one or two exceptions, at Morning Prayer. It was to be said or sung at the beginning of each morning’s worship reminding us that we are to put God, and our worship of Him, first. In the Prayer Book version it can be found on page 65 of Common Worship where you will see that the last four verses are in brackets. In “Common Worship: Daily Prayers,” it is used at Morning Prayer only on Fridays and the last four verses are omitted. These changes were made because the version in the BCP is from the King James Bible and the language was thought to be too stern today. Interestingly in the Psalter, in “Common Worship” and which I use for these Reflections, Psalm 95 is printed in full. I have gone into detail about this because it shows that even in Church worship – which many consider outdated – fashions change. Today we prefer to focus on the Love of God, rather than His Judgement, and the first seven verses of Psalm 95 are clearly words of praise. However, before we dismiss verses 8 to 11 of the psalm, you may like to look up The Letter to the Hebrews, in the New Testament. In Chapter 3, verses 7 – 11, you will find the words of “the Venite” and they are followed by a warning not to rebel against God. Instead the people are told to encourage each other every day in the ways of God. Only then will they find the “rest” which the Lord alone can provide.

Back to the beginning! Verses 1 and 2 are an invitation to share in the worship of the Lord who the author of the psalm knows as “the rock of our salvation.” In verse 22 of the previous psalm we read, “….the Lord has become my stronghold and my God the rock of my trust.” Here is a picture of the rock of Gibraltar!! It is unshakeable, always present, totally dependent. God is like this. More than that verse 3 says, “…the Lord is a great God and a great king above all gods.” The God we find in the Book of Psalms is supreme and unique. Time and again the people of Israel were reminded that there is only One God and as verses 4 and 5 tell us, He is the Supreme Creator: “In his hand are the depths of the earth and the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands have moulded the dry land.” As you reflect upon these words, note that all that is created belongs to God. As an example of this the writer of the psalm says, “the sea is his.” The reason? Because God made it! We are rightly increasingly concerned for the future of the planet and all that lives here. We often see it on our television screens and we know that time is running out. But it isn’t just for our sake, for the sake of the flora and fauna who share the earth with us, or all the plants and creatures who inhabit the oceans, that we must change much of the way we live. It is also for God’s sake.

In this last paragraph, let us return to celebration and joy, the theme of the opening verses of today’s psalm. And we find it in verses 6 and 7. Verse 6 is very much like the opening verse, being an invitation to worship God and “kneel before the Lord our Maker.” The psalms were originally sung by the Jewish people in the Temple and in the local synagogues. However, we too experience the joy of singing hymns in our worship today, or listening to the choir singing an anthem which lifts our spirits. If we needed a reason to do these things, verse 7 provides it: “For he is our God; we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand.” (You may prefer to reflect upon the translation of the words in the picture above.) Whichever, we worship God as our Father and the Father of us all and Psalm 95 is, more than anything else, an invitation to share that worship with all who choose to join us.

Give me a joyful heart, O Lord, remembering that you
are my maker and the shaper of my destiny. Amen.

[Prayer at the end of Psalm 95 in Psalms through the Year by Marshall Johnson.]

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