Formation | Culture | Mission

Out of the Depths: Reflections for Lent 2014

Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD;
O Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy.

If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins,
O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness;
therefore you are feared.

I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
My soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning. 

O Israel, put your hope in the LORD,
for with the LORD is unfailing love
and with him is full redemption.
He himself will redeem Israel
from all their sins.

—Psalm 130

1.  

As Christians, we don’t have to search for clever things to say about pain, suffering and death. We have our own personal experience, the life of our church family and the record of the Scriptures.

My own personal experience has included losing two siblings and developing a chronic sickness. Our church family has recently mourned the death of members 30, 40, 60 years too young. And the Scriptures are brutally honest about world’s brokenness and inevitability of death and judgment.

About 1000 years ago, the church began the practice of Lent, a 40-day season of remembrance and repentance, beginning with Ash Wednesday and culminating on Resurrection Sunday. Lent is the somber season where we remember that we will die and we repent of our sin. (I’m convinced that when pastors came up with Ash Wednesday, it was to have a therapeutic outlet for our own daily encounters with sin, grief and hopelessness. Each year, we can have one utterly depressing service.)

Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD…

The psalmist is praying “out of the depths” of spiritual darkness and despair. He is pleading with God for some little bit of light and hope. This is a type of prayer called a Lament—perfect for Ash Wednesday. We lament that we live in a world of trouble. We lament that we are stuck in the depths. We lament the constancy of our sin, and in the pattern of this psalm, we repent of our sin.

The “depths” usually silence those who find themselves there, but the psalmist still cries out in prayer. Beneath the waves and floods of deep sorrow, our prayer rises to the Father. That’s what makes this psalm so significant for us Christians. Martin Luther supposedly counted it among the most important psalms, and wrote a magnificent hymn on its prayer. John Owen devoted some 350+ pages of his Works (in Book VI) to the psalm. In his great book on this psalm, Octavius Winslow wrote, “Prayer is never more real and acceptable than when it rises out of the worst places. Deep places beget deep devotion… He that cries out of the depths shall soon sing in the heights.”

O Lord, hear my voice…

But where does the singer go with all of his grief and pain? Directly to God. “Hear my voice,” he begs. “Let your ears be attentive to me,” he pleads. The first request is simply this: that the Father would hear him. Some of our prayers the Lord answers; some of our prayers the Lord in all his wisdom doesn’t answer. Yet for the one of faith “it is better for our prayer to be heard than answered.” It is better to hear the Lord’s gentle “No” than to hear nothing at all, or never seek him.

The depths of our lives—the pain, sorrow and sin—remind us of our mortality. “From dust we came; to dust we shall return.” As humans, we need to remember that we will one day die. And after death comes judgment, so we must also repent of our sin. 

2. 

If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins,
O Lord, who could stand?

The singer knows that he is not perfectly innocent in the depths. Maybe his sin has put him in the depths—we often find ourselves in darkness as a consequence of our own sin. Other times we find ourselves in the depths simply because we are living in a broken, sinful world.

When we find ourselves face to face with God, in silence and solitude in the depths of our pain and grief, we will immediately see our own sin. If God kept track of our sins and held us accountable for every one of them, we would remain in the depths forever. There is no one who is righteous before God—no, not one.

But with you there is forgiveness…

Ours is a God of forgiveness and mercy. The psalmist didn’t know how, but he knew God and anticipated a coming forgiveness. This was the uncertainty until one Man came and spoke into the depths. Born in its darkness and brokenness, born in an animal’s feeding trough to unmarried parents, born that man no more may die. Jesus Christ, the Man of Sorrows, was well familiar with this world’s pain—he walked its soil, wept with its curse and spoke to its prisoners. He spoke into the tomb of Lazarus, a man four days dead, and called him out of darkness. Only Jesus can speak tell a mummy to come out into the light and have something to eat.

Here is forgiveness, here is our Mediator: Jesus Christ—fully God, that he might represent the fullness of God. And fully Man—that he might lay his hand upon us as well and invite us out of the depths. Through the life, death and resurrection of our Lord, we are healed. God’s wrath is removed and life with the Father is restored! With Christ, we can finish the psalm with new hope. Without a deep, true thought of sin, we can never have a full, real thought of forgiveness.

3.

I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I put my hope.

Having cried out from the depths of sin and death, and having been forgiven of our sin, now we wait on the Lord. The psalmist repeats it five times. The Psalmist is not offering empty repetition; his heart is pouring out his devotion. Our God is worth waiting for. God’s people have always been a waiting people: Israel waited centuries for their Messiah’s coming, so now the Church waits for his Second Coming.

My soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.

The watchmen would wait in the city towers through the night, waiting for the morning to come up, bringing safety and security to the city, and bringing rest to the watchman. But God’s people wait even more diligently for him. The church has historically made this season of Lent a time of discipline and fasting. We live in this paradox: eternal life with God is available here and now, but not all is as it should be. Our souls are secure in Christ, whether in the depths or upon the heights, but our bodies continue to waste away and inch closer to death. Death has lost its sting, the apostle said; but sickness and funerals still sting.

So we wait for the Lord—our souls wait for him, waiting for sun to rise again, for the darkness to flee. Until then, the darkness is not unknown to Christ. Are you lonely? Have you been betrayed? Abandoned? Has your health declined? Have your hopes been crushed? Your work gone unrewarded? If so, you are merely walking the same dark, lonely path that Christ himself wore into the ground.

In this waiting, we remove barriers to our fellowship with him in seasons like Lent. Fasting could look like a day a week without food. If so, let your physical hunger drive you to a greater hunger for God. It could look like a day a week without screens and media. If so, re-center yourself on God’s still, soft voice. It could look like 40 days of intentional devotions—silence and solitude, reading and praying and waiting. If so, remember the ever-near presence and face of our Father.

What began in the depths now rises on the heights of heaven. The solitary prayer in the depths becomes a chorus of praise in the heavens.

O Israel, put your hope in the LORD,
for with the LORD is unfailing love
and with him is full redemption.

This is the message of Lent: With us there is sin and death. But with the Lord there is unfailing love and full redemption. May this season of Lent drive us to a deeper communion with God and a closer walk with him.

4.

Why has the Church historically imposed ashes on its members’ foreheads to mark the beginning of Lent? Throughout the Bible, a person’s face is a significant theme—it’s his or her true self, representing our identity as well as our deepest emotions. When Cain killed Abel, God marked his face as a curse. Moses hid his face from God because he knew he was full of sin. And Jesus called the religious people of his day “hypocrites,” an acting term for putting a mask over his true face.

Ash Wednesday helps us remember the Cross—where Christ was covered with shame so that we might be covered with grace. As Psalm 34 says, “Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.”

At Sojourn, when our elders mark us with the palm fronds at our annual Ash Wednesday service, they recite the somber biblical reality, “from dust you were made, and to dust you return” (Ecclesiastes 3:20). And then together, as one people, we make our lament together—may it be as significant and life-giving for you as it is for us.

Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth.
May these ashes remind us of our mortality and penitence
and teach us again that only by your gracious gift are we given
everlasting life through Jesus Christ, our Savior.
Amen.

 

2 Responses to “Out of the Depths: Reflections for Lent 2014”

  1. bona clara

    Great blog! Is your theme custom made or did you download it from somewhere?
    A design like yours with a few simple tweeks would really make my
    blog shine. Please let me know where you got your theme.
    Thanks a lot

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS

%d bloggers like this: