This morning we read Psalm 88 at Morning Prayer. This psalm is one that takes me to one place, and one place only, whenever I hear it or read it. In Jerusalem there is a church built on the site of the High Priest's house where Jesus was held on the night before his crucifixion. After he was arrested not far away in the Garden of Gethsemane, he was taken to this place and Peter followed him.
The area has been excavated by archaeologists and beneath the ground level has been found a room or tank carved out of the very bedrock. A way has been broken into it to allow steps to be made in order that people may descend to its floor and walk back up the steps and out again. In Jesus' day, no such entrance existed. There was only one way in: through a hole in the ceiling, through which a prisoner could be lowered - or just dropped. The hole then was covered and the incarcerated person was left confined and in total darkness. It is, in fact, quite a large space and today with electric light and good access it is possible for a pilgrim group to assemble in it safely.
A lectern has been placed in this prison cell. On it are the words of Psalm 88 in several languages. One imagines Jesus alone and in the darkness of this place, as it must have been at the time. Consider how these words of the psalm hit home as today's pilgrims read:
"O Lord, my God, my Saviour, by day and night I cry to you. Let my prayer enter into your presence, incline you ear to my lamentation. For I am full of trouble; my life is at the brink of the grave.
"I am counted among those who go down to the Pit; I have become like one who has no strength.
"You have laid me in the depths of the Pit, in dark places and in the abyss.
"You have put my friends far from me; you have made me to be abhorred by them; I am in prison and cannot get free."
and so it goes on, ending with the words:
".... darkness is my only companion."
It is a psalm that captures the mood of the place, brings home to all who stand there what Jesus went through for us, and connects us too with those who can echo this psalm in their own lives today. Those who live in comfort are brought to think deeply, as we read this psalm and consider those who feel darkness is their only companion.
May God in his mercy grant them release and comfort in their distress, and the love of others to lift them from the depths to new life and light. May Christ's light be brought to the dark places of this world.