aloud to God, that he may hear me.
In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
In the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
My Soul refuses to be comforted.
I think of God, and I moan;
I meditate, and my spirit faits. Selah
You keep my eyelids from closing;
I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
I consider the days of old,
and remember the years of long ago.
I commune with my heart in the night;
I meditate and search my spirit:
“Will the Lord spurn forever,
and never again be favorable?
Has his steadfast love ceased forever?
Are his promises at an end for all time?
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he in anger shut up his compassion? Selah
And I say, “It is my grief
that the right hand of the Most High has changed.”
I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord;
I will remember your wonders of old.
I will meditate on all your work,
and muse on your mighty deeds.
Your way, O God, is holy.
What god is so great as our God?
You are the God who works wonders;
you have displayed your might among the peoples.
With your strong arm you redeem your people,
the descendants of Jacob and Joseph. Selah
When the waters saw you, O God,
When the waters saw you, they were afraid;
The very deep trembled.
The clouds poured out water;
the skies thundered;
your arrows flashed on every side.
The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind;
your lightnings lit up the world;
the earth trembled and shook.
Your way was through the sea,
Your path, through the mighty waters;
yet your footprints were unseen.
You led your people like a flock
by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
We’re in the midst of Lent right now, which means that our confession is still waiting for the assurance of pardon. That assurance will come at Easter. Throughout Lent, however, we are mirroring Christ’s fasting in the wilderness. We willingly put ourselves in the place the psalmist describes in the first ten verses of today’s text. We approximate spiritual desolation to prepare ourselves for the Joy of the resurrection. Because we need both, we need to know and understand the fullness of our own humanity, and that means we look for a while at the darkness, so that we can know what it is to be blinded with the light of Easter Sunday. But in looking at the Lenten Barrens, We can also remember the hollowness of when it was not an affectation, but an experience.
My soul refuses to be comforted. I’ve been there. As described here, it’s as if even though the psalmist wants so desperately to be comforted, but their own nature prevents it. I’m confident that we’ve all been there. I’m sure some of us are there now. And Lord, when we raise up our heads it’s not to sing a song of praise but a defiant shout challenging why would you, who is supposed to love us, call us into this mess. You who are sovereign, put us here and we’re covered in filth and cannot find our way out of it.
We don’t sleep. We look around and see the injustices in the world around us, people suffering at the hands of nature in Japan, people suffering under the heel of dictators in the middle east, people suffering in our poorest neighborhoods from crime and hunger, people suffering in this room, from hurt, from fear, from the anxieties we pile up on ourselves because we have so much that is expected of us, and we want to be good. So we don’t sleep. Because the world you created and called good has fallen and we are trapped in that fall. Our cry is not, at these moments, How great thou art, it’s where are you. Because where we are, in these first ten verses, we can’t see you, and our soul refuses to be comforted.
Where are you, oh God? Because we’re trapped in a saccharine poem about how you carry us through the hardest parts of our lives and that is why we only see one set of footprints. And we’re looking for the magic prayer that will make it all better, and we’re looking for the perfect poem to assure us that you are walking with us. But there’s a hurricane while we walk on this beach, and the only thing we can see carrying us is the tide as we’re swept away.
God, We know you’re out there, when are you going to show yourself?
We are desperate, oh Lord, for you. We’re starving for the glory we keep hearing about in the hymns our grandparents sing to us. Our hands are stretched out without wearing out of fear that if we take even the briefest rest, we’ll miss the moment when you reveal yourself. Our hands are stretched out without wearying because we want to feel the joy well up from within us, but no matter how long we try, we are enveloped in a darkness where rather than being filled with your glory we feel a profound hollowness. And the taste of our Grandparent’s hymns sours in our mouths when we try to swallow them.
All we can taste is the condemnation and how richly we deserve it. And so we ask the questions, echoing the psalmist. God, we know you’re out there, but where are you now, when we feel so abandoned? God’s absence confirms our fears that we have been passed over, and that God’s steadfast love, for us at least, is at an end. The Theologians rationalize to us that God is still with us, and the words of poets try and comfort us with empty assurances and we try and pretend that we’ve got it all together, but our soul refuses to be comforted, and we don’t sleep, and our own hypocrisy stops our mouths from testifying to what we once knew in our core. And we are in mourning, because as far as we can see, God has turned away from us. And that change means our death.
But then, I read verse eleven again, and see it differently. “It is my grief that the right hand of the most high has changed.” The Spirit moves through the language from “I am sick at heart, for the right hand of the most High has changed,” to “The Right hand of the Most High has changed my grief.”
And we remember.
We remember like we are sneaking up behind ourselves, afraid that if we name it before it’s formed, or even think too hard about it, we’ll startle the truth, and scare it away. Because we’re in the wilderness and still cannot see the God who loves us enough to die for us. We still cannot see the God who chooses us even and especially when we consistently reject her. Even though God keeps our eyelids from closing we still cannot see an end to this tomb, all we see is our own emptiness in the face of it. But we can remember. And by remembering, we can trust.
And so I call to mind the deeds of the Lord. And I remember who you are. You are God. You are the God who says to the waters “Be still”, and they are still. When the same water that destroys cities in floods after hurricanes, or threatens nuclear disaster after earthquakes, or washes away entire peoples after tsunamis, when these waters see our God, the very deep trembles.
We’re still in the wilderness, We’re still blind to what God is doing, and all we can see ahead is the road to Jerusalem and the shameful death on the cross for ourselves. But we remember that our God redeems his people with a strong arm.
God redeems us when we’re in these first ten verses by giving us verse eleven and moving our despair into hope. “And I say, ‘It is my grief that the right hand of the most high has changed.”
It’s not much action, but when we are entrenched in a war against our own souls and will not be comforted, turning our hearts is huge, and exactly what we need. It moves the stories at the end of the psalm from ‘Isn’t it pretty to think so” into voices saying “We are your kinsmen, and the air is thick with their company.” The company of voices who have been in that desolate wilderness. Our spiritual kinsmen have seen the mighty works of the Lord, and they have seen that God brings God’s people out of that wilderness and into the promised land. And we remember that these are our songs, and our stories, and that God will lead us through once again.
We, in our desire to play at being God and control our own destinies might prefer that God reveal the endgame to us, but that is not, at least in my experience, how God chooses to act in our lives. So God transforms our introspective despair into a memory that identifies with a God who’s path is through the mighty waters. Once we accept, with God’s help, that these stories are, in fact, ours, we cease to trust in ourselves but in the God who raises the dead. In that moment, we know that we too will be raised up out of our despair.
The psalmist wrote in a time before Christ’s death and resurrection, and so identifies with the struggles of a people brought out of slavery through the waters and into nationhood and a land of plenty. We’ve seen God do even greater things. We’ve seen God become one of us, die for us, and break the power sin and death have over us. We are in the midst of Lent, wandering with Christ in the wilderness, wandering with the Israelites in the desert, wandering through our own refusal to be comforted, and their stories are our stories. And knowing their stories, we can know that our story doesn’t end in our darkness, but in God’s redeeming grace. We cannot see past the cross yet, but we can remember that the story doesn’t end there.
This text shows us that when we cannot see through our darkness, God turns our lament into remembrance. We remember, according to this text, that our God works wonders, and we are empowered to act through our memory of faith. Because we remember that God’s love is steadfast, and God is faithful, and compassionate, and remembers us, because we are precious in God’s sight, and honored, and he loves us. Therefore the God who calls into being things that are not, whose path is through the waters, will lead us like a flock, and though God’s footprints are unseen, we know that we don’t need to see. Because our God, the God who loves us, is the God who works wonders. And we will find the grace we’ve always had when God leads us to the promised land of Easter morning.