I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in God’s word I put my hope. Psalm 130:5
In an old Peanuts comic strip, Charlie Brown is sitting at Lucy’s psychiatrist’s booth getting absolutely no help from her. So, with a forlorn look on his face, Charlie laments, “Where do I go to give up?”
Whew. The Gospel according to Charlie Brown. This has been a long Lenten season. It’s been a long pandemic season. It’s been a long season of doing the hard work of the church in the midst of a national crisis where all we wanted to say was “where do I go to give up?” And that’s been one of the great values of using Psalm 130 during Lent. For me, the Psalms put into words the things that I have a difficult time expressing. The Psalms say the words that are in my spirit when I am joyful and proud, when I am lost and alone, when I am relieved and grateful, when I want to give up. The Psalms are my words even when I can’t seem to find them or even find the strength to utter them.
This is why I use a Psalm when I guide our folks through meditative prayer at Noon every Friday. During that time, we can release our own anxious prayers and let the Psalms speak for us. One commentator says, “[The Psalms] enable us to articulate and bring before God our deepest feelings, our greatest fears, the lingering longings of our hearts, the troubled sorrows of our lives. So, Jesus hanging on a cross cries out, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,’ a direct quote from Psalm 22, [because it was] something he surely learned in Sabbath School.”
Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther, who often fought with the good and not so good natures in himself and in the world while reforming the Church, considered Psalm 130 his favorite. John Wesley, English cleric and leader of early Methodism, on the day of his conversion, sat in St. Paul’s Cathedral listening to a choir sing Psalm 130. “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord hear my cry.” These Christian leaders were in the depths and felt as if their cries for mercy barely broke the surface of the deep. Yet, somehow, they still found hope. They still hoped in the Lord. They still uncovered moments of gratefulness and generosity. Maybe Psalm 130 is speaking to us in a different way today, calling us, within the long loneliness of Lent, to find God’s hope.
But how do we find hope right now when the song in our hearts and in the world is a gut-wrenching song of lament, with words that feel like languishing and a melody that is morose? How do we find hope? We find hope in the fact that we will not always be here. We will get through this. We will get to the empty tomb of Easter and find that our fears and sadness were but a distant memory. We will find that after the waiting and the grieving and the brokenness, we will hear a song of resurrection, a song of thanksgiving. Because we made it. We sang it. We created it, with the mercy and forgiveness of God rising us up and moving us through. We passed through to the other side. We trusted in the words of the God who said we wouldn’t go through this alone, that we would find new life once again. And that is our hope. Our whole beings were crushed and bruised, but also transformed and made new. Just like a caterpillar inside a chrysalis, deforming into something unrecognizable, only to have a total transformation. Can you feel it? Can you feel it in your whole being?
This year during the MLK holiday, as well as Black History month, I found myself reading more about the prominent singer, Mahalia Jackson, and the long road she and other civil rights leaders walked. One author said, “Mahalia Jackson took America to church 50 years ago. Minutes before her friend Martin Luther King Jr. announced ‘I have a dream’ to cap the March on Washington DC on August 28, 1963, Sister Mahalia reminded the 250,000 citizens spread out in front of the Lincoln Memorial of the long road they had travelled. “You know my soul looks back in wonder, how I got over,” she sang, praising the heavens for allowing her people to make it this far. But their struggle was far from over.”
In Craig Werner’s, A Change is Gonna Come: Music, Race, and the Soul of America, there’s a story about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that involves music and Mahalia Jackson. There was an interaction between King and Jackson during his “I Have a Dream” speech. You see, Jackson, already a world-famous gospel singer, had performed at Carnegie Hall, President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural ball, and was popular throughout America and Europe. As an active member of the civil rights movement, she often traveled with Dr. King, singing right before his speeches. While at a church in Detroit, she heard Dr. King invoke the “dream” rhetoric and knew that music, songs, words, and change all mix together in beautiful harmony.
A few days following that Detroit church speech, Jackson and King were in D.C. for the March on Washington. Several musicians performed there like Joan Baez and Bob Dylan and Jackson, herself. Then it was Dr. King’s turn to speak. It’d been a really long day and in the middle of King’s words the energy of the crowd began to fade. “The story goes,” Werner writes, “that feeling the energy starting to slip away, Mahalia leaned forward to King and whispered, ‘Tell them about the dream, Martin.’” Other accounts showed her leaning forward and calling out from down the row to him.
It doesn’t matter how he came to hear this singer’s encouragement, it was then that he pushed his notes aside and said, “Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment I still have a dream.”
Whether this story is a legend or fact, it is clear that the relationship between King and Jackson, word and song, had the power to change and to inspire. Werner says, “At the moment when it seemed most likely that the movement just might get all of us over, it was about Martin and Mahalia, the politics and the music. More important, it was about the movement as a whole.”
Our study of Psalm 130 during Lent has been a movement of song and word, guiding us from the pits of despair to the mountaintops of forgiveness. Our Lenten study of this song of lament has led us down a long road. Our pushing, willing ourselves forward during the pandemic has also been a long road. Our journey into racial justice as a church, our work to become Christians who hold on to the hope that the world can be changed, has been a long road. Being a resurrected people who release gratitude and grace, even in the rough times, has been a long road. But we are on this long road together as we struggle to get everyone to God’s good future.
And as we move forward together, we’ve got to hold on. We’ve got to hold on because we are nearing the end of our study of Psalm 130 and next week is Palm Sunday and then we encounter Easter. It will be a dramatic shift from the world of waiting and longing to an experience of redemption, connection, and hope. Lent is only the first half of our journey. Lent is one half where pain and brokenness and suffering have a grip on us. But as we hope in God’s word, we find that there is a second half of the story. We know that this first half, this Lenten half, this lonely and longing half is only a part of story and it is almost completed. The other half, the next piece of our story is coming.
Professor, author, and cancer survivor, Kate Bowler, acknowledges that we live in two realities: the Lenten life and the resurrected life. She says that the resurrected life is “the beauty, the hope, the embodiment. The feeling people get when they start pulling for each other. The stretching of our horizons. The weird ‘more than enoughness’ that love makes.” Yet she says that we live Lent and Easter at the same time. “Great pain. Great hope. Two powerful realities that are ever before us, that we must keep in front of our eyes or else we fall into despair, what Father [Gregory] Boyle calls hope’s lethal absence.”
And so, she has advice for us. She says, “Let’s take a minute to see our reality clearly in the everydayness of our joys and sorrows, the people we miss, the loves we have, the dependence we resent, the joy in the service, the funerals, the weddings, the email... no wait there’s no redeeming email. We live in the terrible beautiful mystery of a world not yet redeemed, and today it stretches in front of us with an invitation to see and to love still, to hurt and to try again, to stumble in the dusk and to begin again in a new dawn.”
Beloveds, you are enough. If the past year has taught us anything, it is that life is filled with long roads of loneliness, lengthy journeys of pain, and slow moments of uncertainty. And as Bowler recalls, we have felt like hope has been lethally absent. But hope hasn’t been missing. Hope is here, even in our long and lonely Lent. Hope is here, as we accompany Jesus to the cross. Hope is here, when we realize that at least this day, at this moment, we are breathing in sweet spirit of creation. Hope is here, as I look into the twinkling, wide eyes of a baby boy who probably should not have survived his birth. Hope is here, as we push towards progress, inch towards true equality. Hope is here, because we’ve made it this far. We’ve made it another year in the midst of turmoil and turbulence. Hope is here, as we realize that God’s hope resides in God’s word, not only the words of Psalm 130 that we’ve been studying week to week but also in God’s Word, Jesus, whom we follow to the cross, to the grave, to Hell and back, and to lifted up, redemptive glory. Hope is here. Hope is here.
So, as we inch ever closer to the liberating love story of Easter, God’s word says that we are enough, that we will sing songs of hope rather than lament. And instead of a song of lament, we’ll soon be singing “Christ the Lord is risen today!” Because, when God’s Word is our hope, when justice and righteousness break free from the tomb, then “Love’s redeeming work is [truly] done.”