John Michael Gutierrez, PhD
1 Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;Psalm 130
2 Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy.
3 If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
Lord, who could stand?
4 But with you there is forgiveness,
so that we can, with reverence, serve you.
5 I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
6 I wait for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.
7 Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
for with the Lord is unfailing love
and with him is full redemption.
8 He himself will redeem Israel
From all their sins.
Please turn in your Bible, device or prayer book to Psalm 130. We know the very careful balance of biblical lessons begun in Lent originally incorporated the last Sunday of Lent – Passion Sunday. These sweeping lessons find their great commemoration in the structures and ceremonies of Holy Week. In the early church and in the centuries following, Christians have marked Holy Week with signs and symbols that point not only to the solemnity of the Passion, but also to the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection. For example, the Gospel Lesson from the last Sunday of Lent ended with comments about light and darkness (Jn. 12.35-36). In Holy Week, Wednesday’s ancient service Tenebrae plays to “darkness”. The traditional practice extinguished 15 candles one by one, until only one remained burning. That single burning candle was taken from its stand and placed behind the table to symbolize Jesus in his tomb but it was not extinguished as death has no dominion over him, even in the grave. This darkness/light imagery is reinforced again in the rites and lessons of the Easter Vigil.
From Good Friday afternoon until the vigil on Holy Saturday night – darkness has settled in.
Remember, in our reading/listening, it was yesterday when the soldiers nailed Jesus to a cross between two zealots. As the soldiers bartered, his mother and others stood nearby. Darkness began to settle over the land. But it was a darkness that reflected spiritual darkness settling over the crucifixion. Now maybe Judean and Roman leaders and some in the gathered crowd sensed they had achieved their goal. The darkness ironically images their idea of their victory over Jesus the light. The sharp stab of truth’s light was about to be extinguished -they thought. He was cursed by YHWH because, remember, “cursed is everyone who is hanged” (Dt. 21.23). So there he was cursed for everyone to see. They figured nothing he ever said or did could have meaning after this. Very dark- indeed!
Now I call your attention to the opening of our vigil lesson – Psalm 130. “Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord; Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy”. It’s still darkness – all over! But this time, it’s different. This time it’s personal. Made alive by the Spirit we are now positioned to take up our cross and follow Jesus. And one of our cross experiences will involve coming face to face with the dark, swirling chaos of sin in our lives. And the light of forgiveness and mercy. And now I ask you to give me a wide place in the road. In a few minutes I will walk us through the psalm into the vigil’s baptism and eucharist services. Our walk will be in the shadow of two 4th century church “influencers’ – Hilary, who wrote a commentary on psalm 130 and his colleague Athanasius who says: “He who takes up the Psalms recognizes the words as being his own words. And the one who hears is deeply moved, as though he himself were speaking, and is affected by the words of the songs, as if they were his own songs” (letter to Marcellinius). Any failure to rise to their spirited heights is all on me. Now I will ask you to put on an historical robe – that of a catechumen. We’ve finished our training and instruction. Lent has focused our formation. We’re about to be baptized and admitted into the congregation. We’ll participate in the Eucharist for the very first time. Psalm 130 will embody the final exhortations to us.
The Sinai covenant laid the groundwork for Israel’s faith and prayer. The covenant turned YHWH’s newly delivered people into a community of servant priests and witnesses. It’s saving aspects define faith, grace, mercy, forgiveness and redemption. The intensity of Israel’s care to maintain a functioning relationship with YHWH is expressed in the psalms. The psalms are grounded in the good news that in the covenant YHWH has presented and revealed himself as God with us – now, for us, in his greatest expression in Jesus.
Psalms are vocal, public and congregational prayers cast in poetic language – language consciously crafted to be as beautiful an expression of meaning as possible.That is, the psalmists crafted poetic beauty and intended the music of their words to echo among the Temple’s beautiful arches. The psalms, the word of God, are the music of the soul – mind, heart, prayerful spirit, body, emotions- all acting simultaneously. The vast expanse of human experiences in the psalms pull the hearer/reader into the world, not out of it.
Poet’s and prayers don’t always play by the rules so trying to categorize the psalms is something of an exercise in herding cats. Over the years Jewish editors have labelled the final collections “praises” but 58 of that final150 are laments. Psalm 130 is a lament expressing deep sorrow for sin and asking the Lord for forgiveness and help.
Laments initially begin by expressing a disrupted or impaired relationship. So they are at their greatest intensity when the psalmist is face to face with YHWH “to whom all hearts are open, all desires known and from whom no secrets are hidden”. Prayer offered “out of the depths” is instructive because it reminds us of the key role petition and complaint play in biblical prayer. They appeal to the vulnerable side of people – long melodic lines expose the speaker’s interior struggle with hardship, hurt, loss. Their candid honesty moves above, beyond handwringing until resolve emerges to wash away the grit of daily life. This is why laments are actually prayers of hope, uttered in hope, in humility – confident YHWH will hear and act. Laments, then, are not a sign of deficient faith but are basic to the very nature of faith. The evidence of a psalmist’s adjustments/readjustments has a familiar literary form: 1) A cry for help: Things are not right. It’s intolerable! 2) a confession of sin:They don’t have to stay this way, I confess…. 3) a confession of trust: YHWH, it’s your obligation to change things and 4) an exhortation to the Congregation: YHWH is faithful.
Now dear catechumens, Psalm 130 is for all of us. The vigil’s lessons have spoken to us the salvation story about the Lord’s faithfulness throughout Israel’s sometimes lighted, sometimes darkened history. The living word of God is instructive to our daily lives as we undertake to serve and obey the Lord: You will love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your strength and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: you will love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the prophets.
The vigil’s lessons have ended with a psalm that calls us to pause: “Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord; Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy” (vs. 1). The Psalmist has searched and applied to the recesses of his heart a skilful, cold scalpel. He confesses to discovery of an open break, a sinfulness has bent the needle of his moral compass. No illusory optimism here. Being a guilty sinner is not popular thinking today. Sin and its guilt have lost meaning in the pounding waves of materialism and secularism. It is not about social circumstances but about guilty sinners before a holy God. There is nothing deeper, darker than the swampy mess into which our own sin pulls us.
Now dear catechumens, you will experience open breaks, There will be times when you are in the dark. There will be times when you feel your relationship hangs on a thread of divine compassion. Just ask anyone in the community. But know this. Confession leading to repentance is the key to unlock forgiveness. Christians are by definition sinners who confess their sins. If there’s one skill you will need to hone as a maturing believer, it must be confession seeking mercy and forgiveness: Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone, We have not loved you with our whole heart, we have not loved our neighbor as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your son Jesus Christ have mercy on us and forgive us that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways to the Glory of your name, Amen.
None of us come to this point because we are more insightful, not just as deceived in darkness as everyone else, just as committed to darkness as anyone else. Forgiveness offered by Jesus comes at a price – his crucifixion. Don’t be pushed off by it. Jesus does this for everyone who believes. Otherwise no one would believe.
Now dear, catechumens, You are about to stand before the baptismal font where you will profess your faith. Baptism is a sacrament, a visual act conveying the importance of forgiveness. Structurally it is a climax in the vigil as you pass through the grave, the gate of death with Christ. Situated in the Easter vigil, Baptism is a sacrament, a visual act uniting you with him in resurrection, the symbol of eternity and the day of the Lord’s judgement. You are to be a new creation committed to living a new, a moral, a holy life, having made all things new.
In the plea’s emotional force, the psalmist confidently believes the Lord is present in the “depths”. The Psalmist has admitted he has sinned. Now, dear catechumens, we might be inclined to think he can’t, shouldn’t even darken the Temple’s doorway. Ah, but confession/repentance is the key that unlocked the door to his forgiveness. Even in such pits as we dig ourselves, our sins are not deep enough to hide our cries from the Lord. The Lord is one whose nature is to forgive “But with you there is forgiveness (vs. 4a). As is characteristic of the voices in the psalms, point of view is required, if we are to understand. This psalm is a careful statement about the Lord’s character not the psalmist’s. And the key to this is found in vs. 3-8. In vs. 3 the psalmist asks If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, who could stand?” The only answer is “No one.” And in vs.4 he reminds us “But with you, Lord, there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you”. While the Lord is a God who marks or watches sin, he is also a God who forgives. Verses 5-6 are the confession of trust: “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope”. To wait is to live expectantly, with awareness of how the Lord has acted in the past and with keen anticipation of what he is about to do. Waiting is the opposite of despair and hopelessness. So in vss. 7-8, the psalmist tells us the Lord is not the kind of god under whose watch sinners wither: “Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is plenteous redemption. He himself redeems Israel from all their sins”. Forgiveness, mercy and “plenteous redemption” as Coverdale has translated that most important theological word ‘Hesed” characterize who the Lord is. The Lord remains faithful when we’re in the abyss. The Lord is not to be feared because of judgement’s wrath but we, because of Christ’ crucifixion/resurrection, stand in awe, in humility at holiness that forgives – at love not wrath – at welcome not rejection – at mercy not condemnation – at redemption not judgement. Fearful is the Lord’s “plenteous redemption” because it grasps individuals out of the depths.
Tonight, for the first time, at the Lord’s table, you will join up with other pilgrims who have been “grasped out of the depths”. Throughout this psalm you have been invited to put your hope in a relationship with the Lord who listens, who forgives, with whom there is faithfulness and great power to redeem (vs. 7). And now you will acknowledge this at the table for the first time saying:
We do not presume to come to this your table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness but in your abundant and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under your table but you are the same Lord whose character is always to have mercy. Grant us, therefore, gracious Lord so to eat the flesh of your dear son Jesus Christ and to drink his blood that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body and our souls washed through his most precious blood and that we may evermore dwell in him and he in us. Amen
Now the psalmist has fashioned for you, catechumens, and the whole community, a prayer, giving us a profound understanding of grace, forgiveness, redemption and covenant faithfulness. A characteristic of the forgiven is conveying this forgiveness to others, sharing the experience so that others may join in the wonder of forgiveness: and now, Father, send us out to do the work you have given us to do to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.
We do theology in the light so we can stand on it in the dark. So dear beloved catechumens, Welcome into the light. Welcome into the community of the Beloved. Christos anesti. Alethos anesti. Alleluia. Christ is risen. Truly, He is risen. Alleluia.