Psalm 31, that is read this morning, is not dissimilar to Psalm 22 which Jesus quoted from the Cross. “My God, my God why have you forsaken me” has echoes in today’s psalm, as the author pours out his soul with, “I am forgotten as one that is dead, out of mind; I have become like a broken vessel”, in verse 12. Both psalms, in point of fact, reflect a confident prayer from the depths of distress. They are not from a depressed writer seeking to depress his readers too. The reason why they are so powerful is because they are not trite or fatalistic. They are clear-eyed about things like violence and lying and matters that are worthless; they are realistic about adversity and the evil that sucks all the goodness out of people. They reach the point of almost giving up, as Jesus requested in the Garden of Gethsemane, that the cup might pass from him. Jeremiah was in much the same state in one of his laments (as one sees in Jeremiah chapter 20: verses 7 to 13; the text follows a similar pattern to these psalms).
So, what is their strength for us? How do we see the gentle hand of God’s protection on our lives, when around us everything is demonstrating the very opposite? These are psalms that give us confidence because they face reality and do not pretend. That surely is why Jesus in the depths of agony on the Cross was drawn to one of them. The ultimate place of the psalmist is held secure in the sure and certain love of God. It is a cry for help, but it is a confident cry; it is desperate search for a way forward; but it is a recognition that we shall be led by one who has been wounded before us.
These are psalms for moments when nothing quite else will ring true for us. Words of confidence, however well-meant, from those who know that they have not the personal experience to give anything more, will be received with the kindness with which they are offered, but from these psalms, reflecting the depths that many have plumbed before us, including Jesus himself, we are lifted to understand that in the end, in the words of Julian of Norwich, 'All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.'
In Common Worship, the beautifully crafted prayer following Psalm 31 runs,
Lord Jesus Christ,
when scorn and shame besiege us
and hope is veiled in grief,
hold us in your wounded hands
and make your face shine on us again,
for you are our Lord and God.