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Reading the Hymns (for Holy Saturday): Psalm 13

April 3rd, 2010 | 2 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

Holy Saturday is the most difficult day of the Easter season.  While it is often overlooked by those who are not members of rigorously liturgical traditions, Holy Saturday reminds us above all of the stark sense  of failure that the disciples must have encountered.

There are no words of anguish from the Lord.  There is no bursting forth in glorious day.

There is only the silence of the tomb.

But in the contemporary expression of the Western tradition, it is the only day of Holy week that takes the attribute Holy (Maundy being given to Thursday, and Holy Wednesday now being incorporated into Maundy Thursday services).  And that seems appropriate:  in the silence of God to us, the cries of the faithful are heard and answered by virtue of their being raised.

And so Psalm 13.

How long, O LORD ? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?

How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and every day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, O LORD my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death;

my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.

I will sing to the LORD,
for he has been good to me.

How long, Oh Lord?  One can hear the disciples, still faithful to the God of Israel and crushed by the disappointment that the Messiah they had followed had now been put to death, raising their cries to God.

For they, like the Psalmist, have been crushed by sin and death.  The enemy has extinguished their hope and jeopardized their lives.  Their once-burgeoning community stands in the crisis between non-existence and new life, where only the power of God, the power which gives life to the dead and calls being out of non-being, can save them.

And that power is at the heart of the affirmation of the Psalmist.  Despite the reality of his circumstances, he will yet affirm the unfailing love, and his heart will sing of the salvation of his God.  It is a salvation that is rooted in his past–the Lord has been good to him, and hence is no existential leap of faith, but rather an affirmation that contrary to the visible reality, the love of the lord endures forever.

We know that Holy Saturday is holy because it points to Easter Sunday, and the vindication of YHWH’s love for His people.  And so, in retrospect, Psalm 13 becomes a prayer that is ultimately oriented toward Christ and his working.  Where the Psalmist cries how long, the New Testament’s reply is, “Now is the acceptable time, and now is the day of salvation.”

Psalm 13 has been set to music before.  But most musical interpretations lack the depth and difficulty that the words convey, along with the earnest hope contained in the last two stanzas.

Not so this rendition by Jon Yerby, a musician and songwriter at my church.  (The verbatim words are here.)  The sound quality isn’t great, and I wasn’t able to embed it here for some reason (more tech troubles–how long!).  But if you’re looking for a quality transposition of a psalm into contemporary musical form, this is as good as they come.

How long, oh Lord.  Now is the day of salvation.