Fr. Wilbur David Ellsworth · December 17, 2010
Fr. Wilbur continues looking at the morning Psalms with his reflection on this familiar Psalm from Orthros.
O Lord, rebuke me not in Thine anger, nor chasten me in Thy wrath.
For Thine arrows are fastened in me, and Thou hast laid Thy hand heavily upon me.
There is no healing in my flesh in the face of Thy wrath; and there is no peace in my bones in the face of my sins.
For mine iniquities are risen higher than my head; as a heavy burden have they pressed heavily upon me.
My bruises are become noisome and corrupt in the face of my folly.
I have been wretched and utterly bowed down until the end; all the day long I went with downcast face.
For my loins are filled with mockings, and there is no healing in my flesh.
I am afflicted and humbled exceedingly, I have roared from the groaning of my heart.
O Lord, before Thee is all my desire, and my groaning is not hid from thee.
My heart is troubled, my strength hath failed me; and the light of mine eyes, even this is not with me.
My friends and my neighbours drew nigh over against me and stood, and my nearest of kin stood afar off.
And they that sought after my soul used violence; and they that sought evils for me spake vain things, and craftinesses all the day long did they meditate.
But as for me, like a deaf man I heard them not, and was as a speechless man that openeth not his mouth.
And I became as a man that heareth not, and that hath in his mouth no reproofs.
For in Thee have I hoped, O Lord; Thou wilt hearken unto me, O Lord my God.
For I said: Let never mine enemies rejoice over me; yea, when my feet were shaken, those men spake boastful words against me.
For I am ready for scourges, and my sorrow is continually before me.
For I will declare mine iniquity, and I will take heed concerning my sin.
But mine enemies live and are made stronger than I, and they that hated me unjustly are multiplied.
They that render me evil for good slandered me, because I pursued goodness.
Forsake me not, O Lord my God, depart not from me.
Be attentive unto my help, O Lord of my salvation.
This psalm is one of the six the Church has designated as a morning psalm to be read in the Orthros service. Read in this context at the beginning of the day it reflects the wisdom that, in real life, time does not heal all wounds. The repeated cycles of time and the created order in themselves do not bring new deep beginnings that free us from the weight of our choices and the wounds of our enemies from all the past days of life. Sunrises and sunsets may come and go. No, a truly new day, and a bright morning requires something far more. We need someone who can not only enter into the depths of this psalm, we need someone who can realize the hope that this psalm expresses.
We enter into this prayer by praying it in the name of our Savior, remembering that Jesus our Lord prayed this himself as a faithful Israelite, and that opens our understanding of both His life and His self—offering to the Father for our salvation. Hearing these words as coming from the lips of our Holy, righteous and spotless Lord, we remember that He did not have the slightest acquaintance in His person with any sin that would bring such pain and weight down upon Him. As St Paul wrote in 2 Cor.5:21, “Christ knew no sin, yet the Father made Him to be sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
In seeking to understand Christ being made sin, we hear the words of Hebrews 2:9, ‘By the grace of God He tasted death for everyone.’ The Orthodox Study Bible explains this tasting as experiencing death fully, knowing it intimately. And again the Orthodox Study Bible, in speaking of 2Cor.5:21 says, ‘He voluntarily assumed the consequences of our sin, corruption and death without sinning himself.’
As we sense the heaviness of this prayer we begin to experience its medicine against our taking our own sin lightly. As we enter into communion with Christ in the pain and the pressure, the sorrow and the stress He suffered for our sins, corruption and death, we begin to walk through faith in His work, the path in Christ toward genuine spiritual recovery.
Against the mistaken teaching that the Father poured out His own personal anger and wrath upon His only begotten and beloved Son, we need to remember Hebrews 2:9, “By the grace of God, Jesus tasted death for everyone.” The anger and the wrath that the Lord felt as coming from His Father is the inherent consequence of sin. This is described as God’s arrows fastened in Him, and God’s hand laid heavily on him. Pervasive pain of soul and body crushing pressure and distress in the inevitable progression of sins, death and corruption comes not from God’s anger poured out on His Son, but from grace in allowing His Son to embrace the ultimate truth spoken to the first man and woman, “In the day that you eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall die by death.”
Psalm 37 describes Christ’s tasting this tragic reality, His undeserved savoring of the devastating deadliness of sin so that sin’s full power and force might be spent on Him. For the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, there is no withholding, no mitigating the wound that does not heal, the lack of peace that does not withdraw, the height of iniquities that overwhelm, the bruises that annoy with their offensive stench, the burnings in His loins. That is His inner physical and spiritual distress.
But there is more. Sin not only devastates a person, it isolates him from the relationships that make life full and worthy. Friends and neighbors stood near only to observe with coldness His agonies. Other than His mother, John and the devoted women, His loved ones stood distant and failed to offer their comfort in His trouble. Only those who inflicted violence, frustrated with their meaningless and deceitful words stood before Him. Through all this, the perfect Lamb, the innocent sufferer, the champion deliverer, pressed forward into the death that sin had brought upon man, that man had chosen, and met it full on.
In this prayer we see the light of redemption rising from the gloom. “In Thee have I hoped, O Lord; Thou wilt hearken unto me, O Lord my God.” This sin—bearer has no word of doubt in the Holy goodness of his God, nor will he seek to distance himself from the sin for which He suffered — our sins, mine and yours. In weakness, He gave himself in brokenness when His heart was not hard, in humility when He was not proud. For us and for our salvation He stood bearing our sin before the Father, and He maintained this undeserved sorrow without turning away.
This is the spirit of Christ in whose offering there is the new morning. From Him we learn not to be troubled by mere flesh and blood — for these we pray — but rather to stand against the unseen dark powers of death, the demons against whom we pray. In this repentance, this continual sorrow for our sins, we find the grace of God in the sufferings and the vindication of Christ. In His resurrection we are given our deliverance into the new morning where sin and death is buried in the deepest sea, and we walk in newness of life in the fresh glory of Christ’s eternal morning. Through the Holy Cross, truly, we come to the good morning.
As Christ completed His offering at the time of the evening sacrifice that opened the way for the morning of the new creation, let us draw near to Christ in this prayer that, in His grace, we may pray, “Let my prayer arise as incense before Thee, and the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice.”