I cry aloud that God may hear me.
In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying.
My soul refuses to be comforted.
Psalm 77 reads like the diary of anyone who has ever suffered unspeakable pain.
I think of God, and I moan.
I meditate, and my spirit faints.
I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
This dark night of the soul is speechless. There are no words that can communicate the trauma and grief. Like Job, sitting in silence in the ashes for seven days, sometimes there is nothing to say.
And then, after the silence (as is true of all the laments of the psalms), comes the challenge.
For Israel, God is the Covenant God, the One who has promised to keep promises. So – where is God now? – the poet cries.
Has God’s steadfast love ceased forever? Are God’s promises at an end for all time?
Has God forgotten to be gracious and in anger shut up his compassion?”
But then – after the silence, and after the challenge – this psalmist finally turns to memory.
Even in the midst of the current despair, his spirit searchings produce memories of another time when God’s faithfulness was actual and visible.
Remembering is a strategy.
Memory is a move of hope for the psalmist.
Remembering is a reminder to the Lord.
I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord; I will remember your wonders of old.
I will meditate on all your work, and muse on your mighty deeds…
You are the God who works wonders; you have displayed your might among the people and with your strong arm you redeemed your people…
Our psalmist is tapping into communal memory.
“What happened to the ancestors, happened to us.” Even today, at every Seder meal, the litany of the Haggadah recites:
WE were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and the L-rd, our G‑d, took US out from there with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm.
Rivers to blood. Lightnings and Hail. Locusts. Frogs. Lice. Death.
In the memory of Israel, the Creator summoned all of creation to rise up against Egypt on behalf of an unjustly enslaved people.
And then, in the ultimate picture of salvation: the winds blew, the seas parted and God’s people passed into freedom on dry land while the enemy was destroyed in chaos.
The poetry of Psalm 77 sings the praise of the Creator who commanded creation to participate in redemption and justice.
When the waters saw you, O God, they were afraid; the very deep trembled.
The clouds poured out water; the skies thundered; your arrows flashed on every side.
The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind; your lightnings lit up the world; the earth trembled and shook.
Your way was through the sea, your path is through the mighty waters – yet your footprints were unseen.
The psalmist sings praise of the Shepherd who guided wanderers to a new land, a Promised Land.
You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
And here is where our grieving poet in Exile ends his prayer.
This Creator-Redeemer-Sustainer God did mighty work before on behalf of the people. Will God intervene and once again redeem Israel? Will God rescue them from Babylon?
He begins with lament and ends with memory.
The psalmist offers this confidence of remembrance both for Israel and for Israel’s God:
Covenant cannot, must not, will not fail.
Living in The Story readings for Week 37
Image of lament: Couple Reaching Up by Evelyn Williams