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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