The Light in the Wilderness

Scripture Passage:  Psalm 22: 23-31 (Lent 2B Psalter)

You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!  24For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him. 25From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him. 26The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord. May your hearts live forever! 27All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him. 28For dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations. 29To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him. 30Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, 31and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.

This psalm is probably more meaningful in its entirety.  The beginning verses (which are not included in our psalter for today) bear an agonizing pain by the Psalmist, one who is feeling lonely and desperate.  The writer is surrounded by enemies and is sure of God’s abandonment.  It’s kind of like how we usually think of the wilderness.  You can imagine standing in the Judean desert with the winds whipping around you and the sands stinging your eyes.  You just want it to end.  You’ve resolved that you can’t go back but you want this desperation and pain to be over. You want to see something up ahead.

And then, almost abruptly, the threat is gone.  The Psalmist is no longer surrounded by enemies but is aware of the surrounding community, a community of worship, a community of God’s people stretching out for generations.  God has heard the cries of the children and despair has been replaced with blessing, lament has turned into praise.  And the psalmist knows that God is everlasting, that even future generations will know of God’s presence.

This Psalm is also read on Good Friday.  You can understand why.  It is the story of one forsaken who ultimately encounters blessing and redemption.  But it’s a good psalm for our wilderness journey through Lent.  I mean, it’s hard to wander through the wilderness and always know that God is there, always know that you have not been abandoned.  Sometimes we need to be reminded and, let’s face it, sometimes we just need a good old pity party before we are again able to remember God’s promise that the beloved Creation will never be abandoned.  I think God knows that.  We are made to be human.  We feel pain.  We feel despair.  We feel abandonment.  Stuff happens in our lives.  Sometimes the wilderness seems to have no end. 

And, then, just as suddenly as our despair overtook us, we are able to see again.  Maybe the winds have shifted.  Maybe the sands have calmed.  Or maybe, we are finally ready to encounter the One who walks with us through it all.  And God is there.  And, like the Psalmist, we feel joy once again.  But I don’t think joy comes and goes.  It’s not like happiness.  Happiness is fleeting.  But joy is deep and abiding.  It never really leaves once we have it.  But sometimes, sometimes we have to be reminded of it.  And it’s OK if we have to wander in the wilderness a little while to remember.  God is patient even if we need a little pity party now and then.  God is patiently waiting for us to remember yet again that we are a son or daughter of God with whom God is well pleased. 

Here is the God I want to believe in: a Father who, from the beginning of Creation, has stretched out his arms in merciful blessing, never forcing himself on anyone, but always waiting; never letting his arms drop down in despair, but always hoping that his children will return so that he can speak words of love to them and let his tired arms rest on their shoulders. His only desire is to bless. (Henri Nouwen, from “The Return of the Prodigal Son”)

Grace and Peace,

 Shelli

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