The Psalms are a big deal. They’re strewn throughout the New Testament. Jesus quotes Psalm 22 from the cross. Monks chant them in chapels. You can’t overstate their importance in Judeo-Christian spirituality.
But for most of my Christian life I didn’t encounter them very much. When I did, it wasn’t this one. I’d hear the quiet confidence of Psalm 23 or Psalm 121’s recognition of protection or the joy of Psalm 150. Psalm 77? Nope.
This is a dark psalm. We hear the darkness most clearly in verses 3-10, the verses omitted in our reading. (Commentators note that verse 4 sounds like a description of depression and verses 9 and 10 sound like a challenge to the heart of biblical faith.) Nonetheless, the first two verses capture the tone. The psalmist cries out for help, and nothing is happening.
In a melancholy way, this can be helpful even before the happy turn begins in verse 13. Why? Because real life has lots of moments that sound like verses 1 and 2; and if God heals and saves the real world, we need to ponder the dark moments as well as to dance in the light ones.
I imagine a man in despair stammering out something like verses 1 and 2 as he considers doing something drastic. I imagine the parents of a teenager shot dead in the street shrieking those words when they see the unthinkable. When has your soul refused to be comforted? Can you speak of that time aloud? Can you admit to that lack of comfort? The psalmist does.
And I imagine Mary singing these verses as a sad song while she walks the garden path to a certain tomb on a Sunday morning long ago. How could she not? But a new song was beginning.
Lord, our lives include darkness as well as light. Help us not to pretend this away, even as we seek to be filled completely by the life of your resurrection. Amen.