Caught in Lament

Video of the Order of Vespers is here. The sermon begins around the 19:10 mark.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Here in Psalm 85 is a lament we know well. It goes like this: look at what God has done, how He has saved us. We have been rescued from sin and death; He has forgiven us. But when will He finish His work? When will we see everything that has been promised? What is God doing now? Why does He wait to put everything right? So the psalmist prays: here’s what God has done: “Yahweh, You were favorable to Your land; You restored the fortunes of Jacob. You forgave the iniquity of Your people; You covered all their sin. You withdrew all Your wrath; You turned from Your hot anger” (85:1-3). The “restored fortunes” are the return of the captives, whether from Egypt or later from Babylon. God has done this. He has kept His Word.

But now, comparing those days to these: “Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away Your indignation toward us! Will You be angry with us forever? Will you prolong Your anger to all generations? Will You not revive us again, that Your people may rejoice in You? Show us Your steadfast love, and Your salvation give to us” (85:4-7).

Here is our Lenten lament in full parallel and even in apparent contradiction: God has put away His anger; will He be angry forever? He has restored us; will He restore us? But this is not strange or foreign to us. We can feel it in the very observance of Lent itself. We are not waiting for Jesus to be raised from the dead. Good Friday is not a funeral for Jesus. Jesus is not going to be raised from the dead on April 4, 2021. Jesus already died, and He has already been raised. Our salvation is assured, and He has made us members of His favored and forgiven people.

And yet, here we are, surrounded by sin and death, within us and without. We who have been redeemed wait for redemption. We who have been healed wait for healing. We who have been saved wait for salvation. We who have been forgiven wait for forgiveness. We who have died and been raised with Christ to new life wait for death and resurrection. We very literally live in the full tension of this psalm, caught between death and resurrection; caught between what we hear and what we see. We have heard and we will hear what our God speaks. He speaks shalom, which is translated peace, but it is so much broader than just an absence of conflict. The shalom that God speaks to His people, to those on whom He has poured out His kindness, His pious ones, is a word of making everything whole, good, right, complete. All things will be as God wills them to be. Shalom is healing, peace, wholeness, restoration.

The psalmist’s confidence is in his ears, not in his eyes or his mind. I will hear what Yahweh my God will speak. And that confidence is tied both to what God has done, and what He will do. What He did was lead the people out of Egypt to the land He had promised to give them. He led them out of Babylon and restored them to the land. And it was in the land where the Glory of God’s salvation was revealed, dwelling among His people and near to them. The glory of which the angels sing in Isaiah 6: Holy! Holy! Holy! Is Yahweh of the heavenly armies! The whole earth is full of His glory! That is the same glory of which Isaiah speaks later: The glory of Yahweh is revealed and all flesh together shall see it, because Yahweh has said it (40:5). Those words are tied to what John does as a voice crying in the wilderness, preparing the way for Yahweh Himself to appear among His people. He did appear, as the angels sang to shepherds: “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth” (Luke 2:14)!

Even at that time, the glory of Yahweh didn’t appear as people expected, either. The glory of Yahweh was wrapped up in a single Man, who was crucified, and then raised from the dead. Raised up on the cross, the glory of God was revealed for all flesh to see. Thus has Yahweh spoken. And it is through that one Man, crucified, raised, and now glorified that His salvation is still near to us. And it is through Him that the tension in which we are caught will be resolved. It is in Him that Lent will finally give way to resurrection. The God who forgave and who took away all His wrath, who covered all our sin with His mercy in Jesus is the God who will restore us again, who will not leave us here forever, who will show us His enduring and everlasting love and give us His eternal salvation.

That Day is what the psalmist sees in the final verses: heaven and earth joined together, steadfast love and faithfulness met, righteousness and peace kissed; faithfulness from below and righteousness from above; no longer will there appear to be any contradiction between what we see and what we hear, what we feel and what is promised. What we hear now, what our God speaks to us, is what we will have in its fullness on that day. Yes, Yahweh will give the Good, and our earth will give its produce, as in Eden. Where God has walked the way prepared in righteousness is where we go, as He guides our feet into the way of peace; as Zechariah prophesied of his son John, his preparation of God’s ways is to give knowledge of salvation to His people in the forgiveness of their sins.

In Jesus and Jesus only will our Lenten lament be resolved, the now giving way to the not yet, and heaven and earth brought together as the New Jerusalem descends from heaven, the dead are raised, and we dwell on that new earth under that new heavens, where righteousness and peace kiss each other and we celebrate the wedding feast of the Lamb, which has no end.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.

– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 3/3/21

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