Scripture: Psalm 88
Key verse: (10) “Do you work wonders for the dead? Do the shades rise up to praise you?”
Reflection: There must have been textual ambiguity for our NRSV, unlike other translations, does not record our psalmist saying in the opening verse “by day I cry for help; at night I cry in your presence.” Maybe the NRSV is just sparing us. After all when someone asks on a Sunday morning, “How are you?” rarely, do we feel either the courage or invitation to say “by day I cry for help; at night I cry because none came.” But such is the welcome honesty of our 88th psalm. The psalm is endless in its description of death, suffering, loss and ache. For the psalmist, whatever they are afflicted with — and many interpret it as a terrible and unrelenting illness — it is without end. Through many lens and metaphors there is one message: I am dying in deep darkness. It is a tough psalm to start your day with but no doubt a psalm that resonates in the empty hearts of many around the world this moment. The news cameras have moved on in their insatiable desire. But those who endured acts of violence and disruption last week, last month, last year — endure them still. How many understandably echo the psalmist in confessing that “darkness is their companion?”
When our psalm ends nothing is resolved, nothing restored, nothing redeemed. To die is to be cut off from God, to descend into depths of darkness. Verse 10 in the psalm poses a question that takes a very long time to be answered. No wonder the early church cherished so much, even more than the cross, the image of Jesus descending to the dead. The harrowing of hell, the bringing of light to darkness and life to death, is an image to be celebrated and proclaimed. There was unbridled joy when God’s Easter people discovered that there was another ending or another way of beginning, yet unseen and unknown to our psalmist.
We are called to sit in the darkness sometimes, usually longer than we ever want to. But how else will we recognize light when it shines?
Prayer: Light of the world, come to this weary, wounded world and call us again by our proper name: children of light. Amen.
Author: Derek Macleod
[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].