Video of Vespers is here. The sermon begins around the 17:30 mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Psalm 130 has an ironic title: a “song of ascents.” Ironic because immediately the next words are the opposite of that: “from the depths.” It is meant to be a song for those going up to Jerusalem for a feast day, but the psalmist is down, crying to Yahweh from the depths. The Latin words for the title of this psalm are “de profundis.” It’s from that word for “depths” that we get the English word “profound.” A profound word, a profound thought, a profound concept—these are “deep” things that require thought and consideration. But the psalmist is deep and far down in some kind of affliction, raising his lament and praying that God, who is “up there,” might hear him, who is “down here.”
But as with all the laments we have prayed and considered, Psalm 130 is a lament bounded by hope and trust. The psalmist puts his lament in the only place it is worth putting a lament: into the ears and before the eyes of the only God who can both hear and act. The prayer of the psalmist echoes the prayer of Solomon at the dedication of the temple. Solomon prays that when the people sin and turn in repentance toward Jerusalem, “toward their land, which you gave to their fathers, the city that you have chosen and the house that I have built for your Name, then hear from heaven your dwelling place their prayer and their pleas, and…forgive your people who have sinned against you. Now, O my God, let your eyes be open and your ears attentiveto the prayer of this place” (2 Chronicles 6:38-40). And God promises: “Now My eyes will be open and My ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place. For now I have chosen and consecrated this house that my name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time” (7:15-16).
It is because of that promise that this psalmist can ask that the God of all creation would hear and pay attention to his prayer. To say it another way: without that promise, who would be so presumptuous to think that such a God would listen to a single individual crying out to Him, or even a group of individuals on their way up to Jerusalem? It would be the height of pride to think that God would pay attention to such an insignificant creature as you or me, when we think about our place in the whole creation—as in Psalm 8: What is man that You remember him? And the son of man that you visit and take care of him?
But we do have the promise: that God will hear prayers directed toward the place where He has put His Name. Jesus reminds us that His Body is the location of God’s mercy, the temple raised up in three days. And God’s Name has been put on us in Holy Baptism. Therefore we, who are marked by the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit may indeed pray through the Son to the Father, and He will hear.
From the depths; from the lowest places, where hope seems to have disappeared; from the deep pits that we have dug for ourselves by our own actions; from the pits into which we have been thrown by other people, as Joseph’s brothers literally did to him; from the deep places where the darkness closes in on us, and we can’t find a hand-hold to try and get out; from the deepest places, when our bodies, and our minds, and our souls are exhausted; and especially from the place where it seems like nothing is going to change—from there, cry out to God. He not only hears, but He will act.
To what kind of God do we cry? Naturally, we assume that we have to please God, give Him enough reason to hear us or act on our behalf. Naturally, we think God should be feared because He watches each and every action, in order to catch us in sin and destroy us. In fact, the Greek translation of this word in verse 3 is always used negatively in the New Testament. In the Gospels, it is used for what Jesus’ enemies are doing, trying to catch Him doing something “wrong.” If we are in the depths, we might think, it is because we have done something to get down there—and maybe we have. But then we think that we also can and must do something to get up from there.
But God is not feared because He’s watching you closely, trying to catch you in a wrong action; He is feared because He forgives. His ways are not our natural ways and His thoughts are not our natural thoughts. With Him is forgiveness, and not just forgiveness, but also the basis for forgiveness. Our God does not wait for us to advance even the smallest distance before He acts; He does not wait for us to prove that we are worthy of His forgiveness, or that we might be worthy in the future.
He doesn’t say, ascend to Me. He descends to us. He goes all the way down into the deepest, most profound, darkness—to the place that none of us ever has to go, or will go. As deep and as dark as it can get for us, Jesus went even further. He humbled Himself—which means to lower Himself down—all the way to death on a cross. And more than just death, but the absolute forsakenness, where He gets no answer to the question: My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me? There, on the cross, God marks and watches and keeps track of every single sin, every single transgression, every single wicked thought, word, and action. He makes sure that they are all there: yours and mine and all. And when He has counted them all up and seen that the Son has all of them, then and there, in the depths of hell and death, the Son finishes His work and dies.
But, watchmen, look to the morning! To the morning! In the morning, God saved Israel from their enslaving enemies. In the morning of the third day, the Word appears, and all the waiting and all the hoping have their joyful conclusion. With Him is forgiveness, and with Him is much steadfast and immovable love; with Him is the ransom and the redemption—a light for revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of Israel! Beyond that morning, and because of that morning, there is the morning of the eternal day, when the darkness will be gone and there will be no more night. Hear these promises by the Word of the living God, Peter says; pay close attention to it as you would to a lamp shining in a dark place, “until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19). “O Yahweh, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch” (Psalm 5:4).
Jeremiah knew both this lament and this hope. In the depths of exile in Babylon, he prayed, “My soul…is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of Yahweh never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Yahweh is my portion, says my soul, therefore I will hope in him. Yahweh is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of Yahweh” (Lamentations 3:20-26). “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:6).
Lent is our season of lament, pointing us to how it is in this world, where we often find ourselves at the end of our ropes, at the bottom of a pit, in the depths of despair. But our God is the God who heard His Son on the cross and answered Him in the morning, in the power of resurrection. And because you are in Christ, you have His Name and His promise to hear and act. Our eternal Easter day is coming, more certain even than our celebration in a little more than a week.
O Israel, hope in Yahweh! O nations, hope in Yahweh! Church, hope in Yahweh! Beloved in Christ, hope in Yahweh. He has redeemed you from all your iniquities. Wait for Him. Hope in Him. Very early in the morning, everything will be turned upside down, and the most profound depths will become the highest mountain. This light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. We are going up, singing our songs of ascent, to the New Jerusalem, which John saw coming down out of heaven from God. We sing our laments, yes, but even now we sing our songs of hope and joy, as we wait patiently, but certainly, for the salvation of our God to appear.
“And though it tarry through the night and till the morning waken, my heart shall never doubt His might nor count itself forsaken. O Israel, trust in God your Lord. Born of the Spirit and the Word, now wait for His appearing. Though great our sins, yet greater still is God’s abundant favor; His hand of mercy never will abandon us, nor waver. Our shepherd good and true is He, who will at last His Israel free from all their sin and sorrow” (LSB 607:4-5).
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, 3/23/21