Out of the depths, out of the depths. God’s people call to God from the depths of the human predicament.
Like in today’s First Lesson. It’s mostly a song of grief sung by David for King Saul and his son, Jonathan.
Hmm. We can understand why David mourns for Jonathan: the two of them had been best friends, sharing a bond of love that was deeper than the love of a man for a woman. We might call them “soul mates” or “blood brothers.”
But why does David mourn Saul? After all, Saul and David had had a complex relationship, including mortal rivalry. Saul was the king of Judah and Israel, and David was his subject. The younger man was a hero among Saul’s military forces, for he slew Goliath when no one else dared even approach the champion-giant of the Philistines. For this, Saul was grateful. But he was also jealous, because he knew that the people idolized David.
And so he was tormented; he was plagued by evil spirits. He tried to murder David by throwing a spear at him even as the talented younger man played his harp for the king; for strangely, at the same time as he resented David, Saul was soothed by his music.
If that weren’t enough, David married Saul’s daughter, Michal. So the two men were (a) lord and servant, (b) rivals with respect to the throne, and (c) father-in-law and son-in-law, too!
Because of Saul’s continuing jealousy, David was forced to become a rebel. He gathered an army of marauders around him and hid out in the hills. Saul searched for David so as to kill him; for David was a continuing threat to his throne. And yet, when David had the chance to kill Saul, he held himself in check. He simply could not lift his hand against the Lord’s anointed.
That was in part because David, too, had been anointed by the prophet Samuel; he, too, was chosen by God to be king. But God had set that in motion while Saul was still king. And so even though David and Saul were antagonists, he held Saul in reverence – certainly because God had chosen and anointed Saul, but also because that great man, David, recognized greatness in in the tragic figure of Saul.
Thus, when Saul and Jonathan fell on the battlefield, David mourned both of them: “Your glory, O Israel, lies slain upon your high places! How the mighty have fallen! Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely! In life and in death they were not divided; they were swifter than eagles, there were stronger than lions. O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you with crimson, in luxury, who put ornaments of gold on your apparel. I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.”
And when David himself became king (or perhaps it happened a generation later, when his son, Solomon, ascended the throne), a musician in the king’s court caught the spirit of David’s lament and wrote the words of Psalm 130: “Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice; let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.”
Out of the depths.
There’s nothing like the psalms to capture and convey the heights and the depths of life. It’s pretty hard to find any other poetry that does justice to the range of human experience, and at the same time is so fully conscious of God. “My soul waits for the Lord, more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.”
I cannot think of any other lines from scripture that have been so influential in shaping my adult life. Although all these things were written as much as 1,000 years before the time of Jesus Christ, they nevertheless resonate with the heart of the gospel. In mercy for our broken and hurting world, God sends the Only Beloved Son into the depths of our existence. That is where our cry originates.
It’s the cry of Jairus, a leader of the synagogue in a town on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. His little daughter was at the point of death. He had heard of this Jesus, already famous as a healer and exorcist. Of course, he also knew of him as a controversial teacher who had already provoked the indignation of his fellow religious leaders. Even so, Jairus publicly humiliated himself by falling at the feet of Jesus and begging him to lay his hands upon her, so that she might be healed. Out of the depths.
On the way to Jairus’ house, Jesus gets side-tracked by a woman who touches the hem of his garment. It was a scandalous thing to do, for in that time and place a respectable woman did not approach a man in public. But in her own way, this woman was crying out from the depths of her predicament. For 12 years, she had been suffering haemorrhages.
Now, that of itself was a serious physical ailment and a constant threat to her survival. But on top of that, her flow of blood was vaginal, as if she were constantly menstruating. She was therefore regarded as morally and spiritually impure. No man would take her for his wife. No religiously-observant man would even touch her because of the spiritual threat that she embodied.
So, out of the depths of her predicament she dared to touch the hem of the garment of this controversial healer, Jesus of Nazareth. So powerfully did he embody the divine initiative to save that the healing power flowed out of him at her touch-in-faith. Even so, her healing was not complete until he spoke to her, person to person. Only then – when he assured her of his willingness to heal – only then was she saved.
Meanwhile, another cry rose up from other depths: the little girl had died. Jesus had been distracted by another human need and had taken too long. The professional mourners were already raising their lament to God-in-heaven. They were so intent on their appointed task that they couldn’t recognize that heaven had come down to the depths of human existence – yes, even to death itself! – in the person of Jesus.
“The child is not dead but sleeping,” he said. And they laughed – not the laughter of joy, but of mocking and derision. (Could it be, thought, that even such mockery is also a cry from the depths of the human predicament?) The Saviour speaks: “Little girl, get up!” And she immediately got up and began to walk about.
Out of the depths, out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord;
Lord, hear my voice;
let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.
All the witnesses in the Bible tell us that God indeed hears. Even so, we falter in our faith. What it comes down to is this: we worry that we aren’t good enough to bend God’s ear. It’s a consequence of our sin. We believe we must be morally or spiritually superior in order to get God’s attention. That’s our nature. In fact, that’s part and parcel of our predicament.
How welcome the good news, contained in today’s psalm: “For there is forgiveness with you; therefore you shall be feared.” How we need to hear that saving word!
What is your predicament? From what depths do you cry? Do you grieve the loss of a mighty one — like David mourning King Saul — someone who was in some ways your antagonist and yet who bore the mark of God’s favour?
Have you lost your best, dearest friend, as David lost his brother-in-law, Jonathan?
Like Jairus, have you lost a child, or someone like a child, who should have survived and succeeded you, who should have left this life only after you finished your appointed time?
Are you the object of shame because of some debilitating infirmity, or because others insist on slotting you into their moral and spiritual categories?
Does mockery ring in your ears because people have already given up on you and consigned you to the grave?
Take heart, dear friends in Christ. Wait for the Lord, for with the Lord there is mercy; with God there is plenteous redemption, and God shall redeem us from all our sins.