Out of the deep have I called unto thee, O Lord.
Lord, hear my voice.
O let thine ears consider well
the voice of my complaint.
If thou, O Lord wilt be extreme to mark what is done amiss,
O Lord, who may abide it?
For there is mercy with thee;
therefore shalt thou be feared.
I look for the Lord;
my soul doth wait for him;
in his word is my trust.
My soul fleeth unto the Lord
before the morning watch, I say,
before the morning watch.
O Israel, trust in the Lord,
for with the Lord there is mercy
and with him is plentiful redemption.
And he shall redeem Israel
from all his sins.
This is the version of Psalm 130 that I find in the Psalter of my 1928 BCP (Book of Common Prayer), and I love that image of the soul fleeing to the Lord before the morning watch. I recently wrote a sonnet about prayer, and that was one of its images: fleeing east, toward the dawn, through the dark of grief. I didn’t realize where it had come from…till I re-read this psalm for this post.
Despite my long years of acquaintanceship with and deep love for the BCP’s Psalter, I must confess that I prefer this psalm in the ESV. Largely that’s because of the middle section, which the ESV renders thus:
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.
O Israel, hope in the Lord!
In Hebrew there are two verbs in this section, and both of those verbs can be translated as either wait or hope. This is one of my favorite things about the fact that God chose this language for His words to be written in: the equation of waiting and hoping. In Hebrew, waiting is never passive; it is always an active verb, including in its meaning hope and expectation. It is the eager search of the watcher for the morning, scanning the horizon, knowing that though it is dark now, dawn is coming. It is the active faith of one who knows that gray will soon seep along the edges of the black night, who watches and waits in order to herald the dawn the moment it comes.
This morning my Gospel reading was Matthew 20, which includes Jesus’ healing of two blind men:
And behold, there were two blind men sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was passing by, they cried out, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!”
The crowd rebuked them, telling them to be silent, but they cried out all the more, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!”
And stopping, Jesus asked them, “What do you want me to do for you?”
They said to him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.”
And Jesus in pity touched their eyes, and immediately they recovered their sight and followed him.
The blind men’s request is my prayer, too, that my eyes would be opened. I want to be one of those who watch for the morning.
Our world is broken and bruised and battered, as our Facebook feeds and the nightly news remind us ad nauseam. But cynicism and scorn, which seem to be the responses du jour, are not helpful. They lead only to despair. Far better is the honest cry of the psalmist: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!”
Do you see that? This psalm of hope and faith begins in lament. It begins in darkness and desperate need. It begins blind. And humble. Like the blind men who know they cannot help themselves, the psalm begins with a cry for mercy, a shout to be heard. In the shouting, the crying, comes the answer, slowly unfolding as the psalmist reaches beyond his present experience to what he knows is true.
And the first thing he knows is that he does not deserve mercy—but what does that matter? He knows still more: God does not mark iniquity, else who could stand? God forgives, and so he cries out to Him: have mercy!
Like the blind men who declare their desire for sight in the faith that Jesus can give them what they ask, the psalmist proclaims his faith that the God who lavishes steadfast love and plentiful redemption upon His people, the God who redeems His people from all their sins, will hear and heed and answer, just as surely as the dawn will come.
The psalmist knew all this before ever he opened his mouth to plead for divine attention. He’d just forgotten that he knew it. And so the act of crying out, the fumbling beginnings of prayer and faith, became the path to the answer he already knew. This happens to me all the time. Stuck in a rut, in an emotion, trapped in a habit of thought, overwhelmed by a situation I have no power to affect or improve, I cry out to God, “I’m in the depths here! Where are you?!?” But I already know. He’s on the cross, He’s in the grave, He’s seated on the throne of grace, He’s breathing His Spirit through me, through this world, He’s hovering over bruised reeds and smoldering wicks, He’s gathering His scattered ones in His everlasting arms. He’s incognito, unless we have eyes to see. And asking the where-are-you question or shouting the have-mercy-on-us prayer is an act of faith. It may be desperate faith, even doubtful faith, but it’s faith nonetheless: we’re turning our blind eyes to the One who can open them and enable us to see.
Psalm 130 is a perfect psalm for Easter. It begins with our present experience of sorrow, of darkness, of the felt absence of God. But the bare act of crying out to the seemingly absent Lord quickly moves the psalm out of darkness into wonder at God’s forgiveness and then into faith in His faithfulness. It holds the already and the not-yet together. It acknowledges the depths but doesn’t let us stay there. The psalmist preaches to himself, and to his people:
yes, it is dark now
yes, the heavens seem silent
but dawn is coming, the sun will rise
it has risen before and it will rise again
let your eyes be opened
this broken, bruised, and battered world
is also God-haunted and beautiful
its heavens declare the glory of God
watch for the dawn
Christ is risen
He is risen indeed