If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand? Psalm 130:3
When our oldest, Annaleigh, was born, Amanda kept meticulous records of her days. We had the quintessential baby book where we recorded every milestone. Amanda had an email folder where she kept all of the correspondence with our pediatrician. She also had an accordion folder where she kept pertinent pieces of information – medical records, growth charts, articles about introducing solids. If Annaleigh so much as burped or blinked or breathed, we thought it was worthy of a note in the book. I also began a series of social media posts called “Life Lessons from Annaleigh” where I recorded over 350 wacky and endearing things she said and did and what we could learn from her curious antics.
Well, when Beatrice, our second daughter was born, the shininess of new parenthood had worn off a bit. Amanda was working a part-time job that was demanding, I was deep in my doctoral program, and we were parenting a toddler and an infant. Life was filled with the same amazing moments, but I think Amanda only made it about halfway through Beatrice’s baby book before it became too tedious and cumbersome. We don’t have very many “records” of Beatrice’s first year. Thank goodness for iphones, though, because at least we have some photos of her!
Then came Ford. As you know, Ford, was in the NICU for the first four months of his life. Going to the hospital every day meant not having the time or energy to record things in a baby book at all. We do have that accordion folder of medical files, but not for posterity’s sake – we need those records every time he goes to see a specialist, is hospitalized, or we need to dispute a medical bill. Ford is still growing, learning, and thriving and we are simply happy to be connected to him, loving him, and surrounding him as he tries food for the first time, smiles really big, and belly laughs when looking at Daddy. These experiences with a developing Ford are little miracles and will forever be etched in our hearts. But do we have these milestones recorded, written down in a baby book? Nope. But that doesn’t matter. Ford is held in love and care regardless of what has been recorded.
Well, here we are again in Psalm 130; it’s where we will remain for the entire season of Lent. We are still in Lent and still processing our Lenten theme of waiting. But waiting is difficult, and it feels as if our exploration of Psalm 130 this Lenten season mirrors our survival during this pandemic time while also following Jesus on his journey to the cross. Lent reminds us that God hears us because God chose to suffer with us, to experience the depression, the pain, and the loneliness. The season of Lent reminds us that the journey to wholeness and healing, to resurrection and life, is a long and arduous road. But Jesus walked the road before us and will be present with us during this season.
We’ve explored the first two verses of this Psalm of David over the past two weeks. We began Psalm 130 on Ash Wednesday, in the depths, knowing that our mortality was near and that this season would be difficult. In our previous two Sundays we’ve acknowledged that we are in the pit, yet while we are in the depths, God indeed hears our cries of mercy, hears our sins, our mistakes, our missteps, and all the places where we haven’t been our best selves. And now we are noticing that all of it has been forgotten by God - forgotten and forgiven, not recorded. As Easter nears, we’ll get to that hopeful place of new life. But we aren’t there yet.
So, yes, shouting from the depths has been the first part of our journey and the first part of Psalm 130. But in the next several verses of this song, we see the message begin to change. The message of crying out from the depths and God hearing our cries, knowing that we are heard, transitions to God forgiving us, no matter what we have done. And with that forgiveness, that assurance of pardon cradling us in hope, the only thing left to do is wait. We wait knowing that morning is coming, that the rhythm of nature that rises and sets the sun will indeed bring new light into our souls. That is the journey of Lent and that is the promise of Easter. That is the journey of Jesus to the cross and then to the tomb. We wait, in and through the sadness, just as the psalmist says, but we know what happens at the end of the waiting. We know that new life is coming and that we can begin again, that depression will give way to dawn, that shame will give way to sunshine. But for now, we wait.
In the first two verses, we’ve voiced our complaints, our struggles, and our sorrows. And giving voice to those deeply broken places in our lives is the initial step on this journey of waiting. Giving voice, crying out, is sometimes all we can do. The Psalmist said, “Lord, hear my voice! Be attentive to my voice!” I don’t think it is an accident that the word “voice” is used so many times in this first part of Psalm 130. Because, for as long as we have the energy and the will and the persistence to cry out, as long as we use our voices, hope remains. Can shame silence us? Can suffering silence us? Can sorrow silence us? No, we are urged by the psalmist and by God to keep shouting, to keep openly and honestly lifting our voices to release the hurt that is in us, to speak our solidarity with others, and to proclaim a message a freedom. No matter what we are going through, the psalmist desires us to keep voicing our honest cries.
And if we lift our voices in our own pain, as well as in our solidarity with others, then we are assured that we have a God who hears us. And when God hears us, God does not mark or record our sin. According to a translation that I saw, the word “mark” or “record” that we get in this third verse is the same root word as “the watchers of the morning” later on in verse six. Although we watch for God as if we are waiting for the sun to come up, for a new dawn to begin, God’s recording and watching of our faults and failures is quite the opposite. God doesn’t record them. God doesn’t see our sins. God loves us and wants to be connected to us above anything else. God wants more than anything to remain with us, even in our deepest depths, even when we feel as if no one can love us. God does not mark, God does not record anything. No, God is simply with us, suffering with us, in the depths, sitting, waiting to view the morning with us.
And that’s a good thing, because standing up in the midst of the struggle is so hard. Who is able to stand right now? Who of us feels we can stand up firmly and strongly under the pressures and pains that we feel today? “If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?” Who could stand? We all know deep down the answer to this rhetorical question, right? We all know that the answer is that none of us could stand, none of us has a clean record, none of us has lived perfect lives. Each and every one of us has muddled things up, missed the mark, made a mess of things. Each and every one of us knows that the sooty scratches of sacrifice that we scraped on our heads during Ash Wednesday remind us that our record is anything but clean.
I’ve received so many texts and calls from you in the past several weeks about you trying to stand with all of the weight on your shoulders. Standing feels like a lot right now. Standing feels difficult right now. It might be difficult to stand under the weight of criticism as you stand up for the rights of all people. It might be difficult to stand under the weight of heartache as your soul is heavy with grief and loss. It might be difficult to stand under the weight of anger as you strive for the change you want in the world. It might be difficult to stand under the weight of your own mistakes as you keep tally and record your own imperfections. It might be difficult, this Lenten journey, to simply stand.
But that’s what is so amazing about grace. That’s what’s so awesome about our God. It is that we have a Savior who stands with us and who has walked this road before us. We have a Christ who has suffered every trial. We have a Jesus who outstretched his arms on the cross to not only take away our record, but to embrace us with new and divine hope, a hope that shines after death, after depression, after despair and guides us through that empty grave. Yes, we don’t have a record today because God has already forgiven us.
But accepting that forgiveness is difficult. We carry around a lot of guilt. I don’t know about you, but God doesn’t need to keep a record on me. I carry the weight of the marks of sin and guilt in my spirit all the time. I beat myself up, each and every day. I have failed to be just and bring healing in all that I do. I’m not sure with my big list of sins why I’m able to stand today.
And that’s why following Jesus guides me to forgiveness and helps me to stand under the weight of imperfection and inaction. Following Jesus gives me the strength to move beyond my “record” and know that my prison of guilt and shame doesn’t define me. Following Jesus to the cross, into the tomb, up from the resurrection, and out into the world, has wiped the slate clean for each of us, giving us the confidence and power to be those followers who don’t turn aside, curve, bend, or twist when injustice happens. No, we are not bound by our records. We stand in the strength of Christ and we help others stand as well. “Who could stand?”
A while back, I came across and tucked away a poem by Pierre Jeanty, a Haitian-American author, that speaks of how the pain of our humanity feels like it keeps a record on our bodies and souls. This poem reminds me, since God doesn’t keep a record and forgives us, that we should have grace with ourselves and with one another. Jeanty wrote:
The pain will come,
let it visit,
cry it out,
vent it out,
bleed it out.
And then ask it to leave.
Do not allow it to build a home
and call it broken.
We aren’t meant to be broken forever,
that is punishment to our hearts and minds.
And so, although Lent feels like brokenness, we won’t be broken forever. As we continue on this Lenten journey through Psalm 130, we have been in the depths, we have strained our voices to cry out for ourselves and others, and we have been assured that God keeps no record and makes no marks against us. God simply waits and stands with us in hope for the morning sun to rise, for the new day to dawn, for us to be healed and made whole. And that promise is a record we will definitely want to keep.