Last night I turned to the lectionary. The last time of worship and devotion in the lectionary is called Compline. When I visit a monastery, it is my favorite one of all periods of worship. If you go to a rigorous monastery, like Gethsemani where I take my students, you have seven worship periods throughout the day. The first one begins at 3:15, which is a tough one for normal people. The remaining six periods structure the day in a way that is very different for most of us.
The day culminates in the evening with Compline. For much of the year here in the Northern hemisphere, it is dark when Compline is conducted. A common theme of Compline is prayers for rest and, perhaps, protection. Compline finishes or “completes” the day. One is ready for bed and the preparation for a new day.
Last night when I turned to the lectionary readings for Compline, I was directed to the words of the Psalmist found in Psalm 130. It is a short Psalm and contained the familiar Compline themes. Let’s look at a few of these.
Often it can be instructive to look at a couple of different translations to get a better feel for what the passage is saying. Since most of us do not read Hebrew, the original language of the Old Testament, we are dependent on a translation. In this case we can look at the translation that I find on my Catholic website and the New Revised Standard Version. Of course, there are many other translations we could use, but these two will give a feel for the possibilities.
I focused on a couple lines in the middle of the Psalm. The Catholic translation says, “More than the watchman for daybreak, let Israel hope in the Lord.” One gets a slightly different focus if we turn to the NRSV: “my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning.” I personally prefer the first translation because of the explicit desire for hope. Hope is typically a theme for Compline: thanks for the day and hope for the tomorrow. In the NRSV the hope element seems more muted. We are told instead that the soul is waiting for the Lord. Of course, there is likely hope implied in this, but I prefer the explicit hope.
The basis for the hope comes next in the Psalmist’s writing. The basis of our hope is in the Lord. God is hope. Let’s look at the Psalmist’s words. Again, the Catholic translation I find appealing: “for with the Lord there is kindness and abundant redemption.” This is theology that speaks to my condition. One can hope in God because with the Lord there is kindness. That’s a relief! And with that Divine kindness we also learn that with God there is abundant redemption. That seems like a great deal!
Redemption means that we have a way out of our predicament. Redemption happens for those who are caught in a spiral of defeats. Redemption comes to those who are judged guilty and headed to some kind of prison. For many of us, we are not heading to a literal prison with bars, etc. However, we can be imprisoned by many things. There are many psychological forms of imprisonment. With the Lord there is abundant redemption.
The NRSV is not a bad translation. It tells us, “O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.” Clearly here is the clarion call for hope. This hope is founded in the steadfast love of the Lord. I know enough Hebrew to know that those two words, “steadfast love,” translate a very important Hebrew word. It is very close to the Greek word, agape, that many of us use. It means sacrificial love. It is the kind of love that is at the heart of the Christian Easter story. With that kind of love, it is easy to harbor hope.
And our hope is grounded in the power of the Lord to redeem. Again, this introduces the liberation theme. This is a powerful word for any of us who feel trapped and are not sure there is a way out. It is key word for all of us who feel condemned and, perhaps, unable to do anything else. Redemption is what we long to have. And redemption may be the very thing we fear we either do not deserve or will never to given.
For those of us in this situation, all we can do is wait for the Lord. We may have to wait through the darkness of not knowing if it can happen. But the words of the Psalmist should be a comfort. That is why I read the words of Compline and pray the words into my own reality.
I will wait upon the Lord and seek hope in God’s kindness and power to redeem. Sometime that hope will be realized. That is the promise. I am content to wait in hope.