A song of ascents.
Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord; Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you. (Psalm 130:1-4)
Shout it From the Gutters!
This week is the beginning of the Season of Lent—that’s true whether or not you ate paczkis on Shrove Tuesday, received the Imposition of the Ashes on Ash Wednesday, or missed it completely! Lent is the six-week long season in the church that follows Epiphany and precedes Easter. According to the Book of Common Prayer, it is a time to prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ death and resurrection, “by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s Holy Word.” It was also traditionally a time when new converts were trained and prepared for baptism and when those, “who, because of their notorious sins” had been separated from the church could be reconciled through repentance, forgiveness and restoration. In other words, Lent is a season for both sinners and saints!
Psalm 130 belongs to two famous groupings from the psalms. It is one of the fifteen “Songs of Ascents” (Psalms 120-134) in the ancient Jewish liturgy; and it is also one of the seven “Penitential Songs” (6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143) identified by the early Christian Church (St. Ambrose, St. Augustine) which were incorporated into services of confession and lament. Psalm 130 is a song for both sinners and saints.
The song begins, “Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord; Lord, hear my voice.” (vs.1) Ancient Jewish and Christian worshipers alike acknowledged that any approach to God began in the depths—the depths of sin and separation, the depths of darkness and despair, the depths of humbleness and humanness. It is true of those “notorious” sinners, but it is equally true of you and me. The psalmist goes on to explain, “If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, who could stand?” Spoiler alert, the answer to that question is “no one.” As the Apostle Paul puts it in his letter to the Romans:
“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:1-12)
Everyone begins in the depths…everyone starts their journey to God in utter darkness. And if we want to come before a God who “dwells in unapproachable light” (1 Timothy 6:16), then something’s got to change! Mercifully and wonderfully, this unapproachable God makes Himself approachable—he opens the door to reconciliation, restoration and worship. “But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you.” (vs. 4)
How do we PREPARE to come before a Holy God? We cry out of the depths. We have to shout it from the gutters before we can shout it from the rooftops. We prepare our hearts and minds, “by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting and self-denial; by reading and meditating on God’s Holy Word.” And when we do we will see, once again, the God who makes a way; the God who shines the Light of the World into the darkness (Isaiah 9:2; John 8:12).
And how can we avoid going back into the depths? How can we hope to REMAIN in God’s Holy Presence? By keeping our eyes on Jesus and running the race with perseverance (Hebrews 12:1-3); by receiving his forgiveness and serving him with reverence (Psalm 130:4). No matter how dark it gets, or how light it seems, we must keep pressing into the Light. “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7)
We celebrate a God who is not afraid of the dark. “He knows what lies hidden in darkness, even though he is surrounded by light.” (Daniel 2:22) We celebrate the One who hears when we shout from the rooftops OR the gutters. We celebrate a Savior, Jesus Christ, who offers living water in the driest deserts of life. Come to him, trust him, receive him…and always stay thirsty, my friends!