#38 of a Series on Psalm 50
“Have mercy on me, O God.”
With this reflection I’ll bring this series to a close for now.[i] I began this reflection process several years ago as a series of Lenten sermons that were eventually written and shared. I want to thank those who have encouraged me, especially Pani Christine and Cynthia, to kickstart the writing effort so that it might be revisited, somehow I trust, to the glory of God.
Sometimes, in the Orthodox tradition, when a prayer or psalm is ended, you go back to some verse earlier in the Psalm and repeat it, just for emphasis. This is common in many of the services, like Psalm 102 in Vespers. At other times, as in the Akathist to the Godbearer, we repeat the entire first stanza. It would seem that once is never enough in Orthodoxy!
And that is how the spiritual life is, in its circular way, in Orthodoxy. We start at one place, like the Feast of the Annunciation, and go through the entire cycle of the Nativity then less than two months later, celebrate the Annunciation Feast again. Similarly, we begin Great Lent which leads to Holy Pascha (Easter) and Pentecost, then all the Sundays After Pentecost – then the cycle begins anew with the preparatory weeks before Great Lent for the following year. All this, until the Lord comes in glory – or until we die – whichever comes first!
I just want to highlight this final segment with this thought, ‘Why me?’ Oh, how many times these thoughts pierce our minds or these words tumble out of our mouths when life grows difficult! Throughout this set of reflections, I’ve used the plural form most often – we, and indeed there is a corporate plural sense to all of this – we’re on this life journey together – as the Church.
But it does really boil down to whether or not I am impacted personally by the words of this psalm, or of anything else said in the scripture. Does it matter to me? Do these really become my words – which David simply uttered millennia earlier just to show me how to do it?
I can think about all of the wonderful, mysterious and even mystical ideas embedded in the scriptures and words from the heart of David that serve as my personal invitation to participate in the restoration of my soul through penance. The Church sets up forty days called Great Lent specifically for this purpose.
But this does not mean that I have done penance, nor turned away from my sin, nor turned to Christ in repentance. Like Judas, I may have deep sorrow even, for what I have done, but will I find now salvation by truly turning to my Savior and asking Him to be my Savior, from my sins. My sinful state may in part have resulted because I’ve been turned away from God because of people (like this clergyman at times?) who proclaim religious truths but don’t come across as authentic, caring or who aren’t acting like repentant people.
Still, the psalm says the opportunity to repent to God, through His Son Jesus, and forgiveness and restoration and all the things promised in the Psalm are for me. If I but repent.
If I do actually repent then I walk with Jesus, to the Cross. But I walk with David as well. I’ll be invited to live my life like the great St. Paul, who identified himself as the ‘chief’ of sinners. (1Tim.1:15)[ii] or like St. Peter, who denied the Lord.
But as this reflection was about Lent and repentance, repentance does not end with us. It ends with Christ – who accepts our repentance as our sacrifice to Him. Repentance is all I can really offer to Him. It’s really all that He wants! It is the ‘worthy’ offering of the soul.
And so, in the fulfillment of Great Lent, we celebrate Holy Week which reaches its climax in the Lord’s initiation of our New Life at the Mystical Supper where He gives the Church the Holy Communion that will be our communion with Him until He comes again in glory, and becomes the food of the Kingdom. On Great Friday, we climb the Summit of Forgiveness at Calvary where the Lamb of God is sacrificed for the forgiveness of sins and Life everlasting[iii] for all who would receive Him. And then we enter the Paschal Vigil – waiting for deliverance in the Resurrection.
In the Orthodox Church we look upon the icon of Christ’s Descent into Hades[iv] to glimpse what our deliverance from the bonds of sin looks like. It’s about freedom and release – given through God’s forgiveness in His Mercy to all who repent and enter into connection and communion with God in Christ Jesus. And so, in the so many of the icons, not only do we see the Original Sinners – Adam and Eve – receiving their release from their own personal Hell, but also the figures of the Old Testament like the prophet Moses, and yes, David (highlighted above)! David’s release from sin and Moment for salvation and total forgiveness arrived when Christ lifted him out of his Grave of sin, and so David appears as one in the queue of Salvation, perhaps he was one of the saints seen in Jerusalem after the Resurrection of Christ as St. Matthew attests. (Mt.27: 51-53)
Knowing the Risen Christ – Knowing Salvation
It is our blessing in this life to know Christ as Messiah, son of David, in ways that David could not know – through our mystical encounter with Him beginning in repentance, but leading to Baptism, Chrismation and Holy Communion, as well as Confession. David was led by the Spirit through the true words of the God, spoken through the Prophet Nathan that lead to his heart being restored in the truth about himself. The name ‘Jesus’ bestowed upon the the incarnate Son of God at birth, as the Son of David, means ‘The Lord is Salvation’. (Mt. 1-2) To enter into repentance, is to come to know Jesus, and know salvation!
Why me? Why have I been afforded this opportunity to hear God’s truth and repent? I am utterly unworthy of such great forgiveness and mercy toward me and my sins. Why me? Only because God loves me. And He sent me one whose name is David to show me just how much He loves me.
May David the prophet accompany you on your journey to salvation! On the Day of when the Risen Lord appears, may the words of David be our words as well, ‘Lord, You have brought me up out of the lowest Hades.’ (Ps. 29:3) These are the the fruits of repentance. Ω
[i] I say for now because there’s something incomplete about the number 38! I need to get to 40 which is a much more biblical number I think! But what I have in mind is just pulling this into a book that can be used perhaps as a Lenten meditation as it was first conceived. But here’s the thing, I don’t know if that would be worthwhile or not – a good stewardship of my time and effort. So, if you have any thoughts about this either way, send me a note by email or Facebook or give me a call. Your feedback on strengths and weaknesses will be a blessing to me, and to anyone who might read these reflections along the way.
[ii] It’s no accident that this sentiment is part of our prayer in the Church immediately before receiving Holy Communion. Paul’s sin which led to the martyrdom of St. Stephen and so many of the early Church must have weighed so heavily on his soul. Likewise, his co-apostle Peter, was the very one to deny Christ at the most crucial hour. It is said that Peter continued to weep throughout his life at the thought of his sin and moral failure.
[iii] The priest recites these words aloud to everyone who comes forward in repentance to receive Holy Communion, as they receive – riveting this truth to our souls in the Moment.
[iv] The Descent into Hades is the biblical reference to Christ’s descent into the lower regions (Sheol) to free from sin and death those held captive by Satan. It is the central theme of the entirety of the Orthodox understanding of Christ’s saving work. In 1Pt 3:17-22 we read: For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.