Psalm 31: 9-16
Let us pray: O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, who at the sixth hour wast lifted up upon the Cross for the Redemption of the world, and didst shed Thy Blood for the remission of our sins; we humbly beseech Thee that by the virtue and merits of Thy most holy Life, Passion, and Death, Thou wouldst grant us to enter into the gates of Paradise with joy. . . . Amen.
The new (1979!) Prayer Book has us launch into Holy Week on Palm Sunday with the reading of the Gospel of the Passion from one of the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke--and so Luke this year-- and then at the end of the week in the Good Friday service we set the other bookend and read the Passion again, always from St. John.
As if we didn’t already know this story backwards and forwards. I guess the message is that we can’t ever know it well enough--that there is always something more to hear in it, some new shadow of meaning. Something more to be revealed about ourselves: who we are, what our lives are about. The same mirror, but never the same face looking back at us in the mirror.
The story engages vast and cosmic forces, good and evil, light and darkness. And yet it is also so intensely particular and personal. That at each swing of the hammer, pounding in the nails, echoing across the centuries and through the universe in a way that is both absolutely real but also beyond my and our comprehension: that he then, in that hour, knew each one of us, he saw our face, he whispered our name—taking upon himself our sin, taking into himself our darkness. That he stood in for us while we were choosing to walk our own way—all of us together, each one of us, individually. One by one by one by one. Sometimes people will say that when we are near death “our whole life will pass before our eyes.” In this hour, our lives pass before his eyes. Even as we so often blithely will do what we can to minimize things, to exonerate ourselves in our own eyes, play games, with a mixture of rationalization and denial. Pretending--even as we see and hear the hammers swinging and pounding, again and again and again. Nonetheless, the message of the day: we are seen. We are known. Which is terrifying, but also good news. On the way to Good Friday. Holy Week, 2016. And with prayers that what we begin this morning will enrich you daily through the days to come.
If you’ve been following along in this Lent, I’ve been sharing something of a sermon series--an exploration based on the psalms appointed each Sunday—looking into them for clues about Christian faith and Christian life as we step back in this season every year to refresh our connections, to read Scripture and to pray and to give our faith and life an enhanced focus, with prayer and intention that Lent might be a season of renewal for us. Healing and blessing . . . .
We’ve had five so far, five Sunday psalms. On the first Sunday, Psalm 91, the bedtime song of comfort, security, safety. On the second Sunday, Psalm 27, which is a song of courage. On the third Sunday, Psalm 63, a song of joy On the fourth Sunday, Psalm 32, which is set in the context of the gospel reading of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. A psalm about mercy. And then last week, on the fifth Sunday, Psalm 126, all about hope. That the God who has been faithful, will be faithful. Hope.
And this morning, to bring us to a conclusion for this series, is this section of Psalm 31, verses 9 – 16. It begins as a prayer for mercy in an hour of deepest distress. Printed in our leaflet insert this morning. “Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am in trouble.” And I wonder as we have in these past few minutes watched the drama of the Cross in front of us once again, what has that called up in each of us? Perhaps something specific—or perhaps just a more generalized sense. Déjà vu, perhaps? That we’ve been here before, that we know what this is all about. Is this our prayer, “Have mercy?” As we would remember things done and left undone. When we have “erred and strayed, like lost sheep,” following too much “the devices and desires of our own hearts.” As the psalmist sings, “my life is wasted with grief, and my years with sighing.” Everything collapses.
What frames the story of Jesus today is familiar to us also—either literally or figuratively. “They put their heads together against me. They plot to take my life.” Yet even now, and the theme of this last psalm in our sequence, we would reach down deep inside of us, to find trust. “I have trusted in you, O Lord . . . my times are in your hand ,” and then the prayer, “make your face to shine upon your servant; and in your lovingkindness save me.”
In Matthew 17 Jesus to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.’”
Faith. That’s the word for the concluding psalm in our series, and as we set out into this week. Faith.
The first chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see.” In the words of Matthew Henry, one of the great English scholars and preachers at the end of the 17th and beginning of the 18th century, “faith proves to the mind, the reality of things that cannot be seen by the bodily eye. It is a full approval of all God has revealed, as holy, just, and good.” Faith not simply about our intellectual assent to words printed on a page—but to know deep down and through and through what those words actually would mean in our lives. All at once and in the same moment a relationship—a relationship--that is about the promise of what God will do, and that is at the same time the evidence of what God has already done. The source and the purpose of all spiritual gifts. Origin and destination. And that relationship is what we are all about this morning, under the Cross, if we are about anything.
So the six thematic points again, from these psalms: comfort, courage, joy, mercy, hope, and faith. Signposts on the Lenten journey, or forming a kind of framework or word-cloud of meaning and focus for this season—and perhaps we can bring them forward all together for the Holy Week ahead as we seek once again to sort out what this story means for us. Just to take it in. That he died for us. The Good Shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep. That he may live in us, and we in him. What that’s all about. Lent and Holy Week and all our lives: comfort and courage, joy, mercy, hope, and faith.
Let’s kneel and sing this great Holy Week hymn, #164. Alone thou goest forth, O Lord.