During the season of Lent we will be focusing on the Psalms. The Psalms have proven for generations to be the best way we have to speak with God about a great variety of conditions and situations we may face as individuals, communities, congregations and civilizations. No amount of interpretation or artistic, creative re-writing has been able to improve on them. Psalms are the type of conversation between people who are clear enough and secure enough to risk and be honest with each other. This conversation is crucial to building community and self-examination. The Psalms have been, for Israel, a claim to the nearness of the relationship they have with God. When we claim access to the honest, self-examination of the Psalms as part of our own worship and devotion, we too are claiming our nearness to God.
How we express the closeness of God in the worshiping community becomes the example of how the worshiping community forms other relationships. Our nearness to God defines our closeness to others. How we love God and understand God’s love for us defines our love for our neighbor. But the Psalms and the communication they provide are important also because they shape our speech with God and how we know what we know. The speech of the Psalms, both corporate and individual, teaches us how we relate to a specific, identifiable other with whom we have a wonderful past and promised future.
Some of the Psalms recount the whole history of sacrifice, suffering, joy and grief and are anthologies as well as laments such as the Psalm for the first Sunday in Lent, Psalm 25. Others like Psalm 22 used on the second Sunday in Lent are more individual laments. It is likely Jesus was quoting from Psalm 22 as he died on the cross. The verse referenced in the Mark 15:34 passage would have called to mind the entire Psalm with its redemptive message to anyone who heard. The third Sunday shares with us one of the early Hymns of praise acknowledging the Glory of all God’s creation in Psalm 19 and how this knowledge brings us full circle back to praise. Psalm 107 reminds the hearer of the impossibilities achieved in scripture and establishes the ancient trajectory of a worldly reality that does not contain or define God and the impossibilities God has yet to perform. The fifth Psalm, Psalm 51, is a penitent Psalm and alludes to David’s interaction with Bathsheba, his passionate self-condemnation and extreme plea for transformation.
The Psalms call us beyond ourselves and toward God. The world entices us to regard ourselves as the primary reference, and leads us to narcissism and a fascination with our own abilities and accomplishments. Karl Barth, a Swiss Reformed Protestant theologian of the 20th century, felt the great problem of today is the feeling of autonomy, the notion of self-grounding. The Psalms remind us that we are grounded in God and our life only has real meaning in the life and purpose of Christ.
Lent is a time for self-examination and transformation. It is a time to be honest with God and more importantly, with ourselves. The Psalms give us a way to do that. Self- examination does not have to be dark and tedious. It can be a source of theological creativity that you can share with those you love. Psalms remind us that emotions and feelings are a gift from God and a resource that we can use to ask the tough questions and prayerfully examine our relationship with our family, our community, our congregation and God and how each of those relate to each of the others.
See you Sunday,