Into Your Hands
One of the big blessings of the pandemic was being forced to worship online. Yes, I said it. It was something that I suspected we should be doing, but I could never justify the time, or find the energy, or come up with the money. Nor did we know where or how to start. Then along came COVID, and our bishop shut down worship the Thursday before Holy Week and barred us from the buildings, to keep us safe at home.
And so, using an iPhone 9 with a cracked screen, we began. And one of the first services I thought we could offer during the weeknights was compline. Two nights a week, there was this lovely little ten minute service meant to comfort us in our anxiety and surreal sense of separation. It was a soothing and wonderful way for lay people to stay involved in worship, as they could easily lead it with minimal instruction. A small but wonderfully generous crew of volunteers and I took turns leading these simple prayers. And now two years later, we still host compline online, with new volunteers, and it’s still just as lovely.
Compline offers simplicity. Of the four psalms offered as options, one of them is Psalm 31, verses 1-5. These spare verses address God directly, and with great trust, as one prepares for sleep.
In you, O LORD, have I taken refuge;
let me never be put to shame;
deliver me in your righteousness.
Incline your ear to me;
make haste to deliver me.
Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe,
for you are my crag and my stronghold;
for the sake of your Name, lead me and guide me.
Take me out of the net that they have secretly set for me,
for you are my tower of strength.
Into your hands I commend my spirit,
for you have redeemed me,
O LORD, O God of truth.
I can imagine it has been a popular prayer before sleep for millennia—I think back to stories of previous pandemics like the bubonic plague, when people went to sleep praying that they would live through the night—that was how quickly illness could overtake one from that terrible disease. The powerful image of God as the crag and stronghold is solid and sure—found also in Psalms 18 and 71. Contrary to what I had always assumed, a crag is a rocky promontory, NOT a shelter. It’s the kind of place from which people who are afraid of heights should NOT stand. You are safe when standing on a crag, but you feel exposed. You are on solid ground, supported by a massive outcropping of rock. So perfect a metaphor for life in a time of pandemic—that even when you feel vulnerable, God is beneath you, upholding you.
We certain clung to all those promises during the worst of times, didn’t we? And now, as we turn toward Holy Week, I think of Luke’s passion narrative, and of Psalm 31. The last words Jesus breathes from the cross come from Psalm 31:5—“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”
How many times have I read those words and not remembered the next phrase that follows? Jesus, undergoing one of the most cruel tortures a mind can devise, is not merely announcing his death. He is also expressing his absolute trust in God.
“Into your hands I commend my spirit, for you have redeemed me, O LORD, O God of truth.”
Think on it: As Jesus gives his last breath on the cross in Luke’s gospel, he is still proclaiming his faith and absolute trust in God, even in the depths of his suffering and with his impending death. Jesus is insisting that God is faithful, just at a time when a lot of people would wonder why God has abandoned them. This is very different from the other gospels, and is certainly a source of inspiration for all those who suffer.
The last two years have left many of us feeling raw, exhausted, and exposed. The familiar has been stripped away, along with our certainty that our worship and our liturgies can just tick along from year to year and cycle to cycle. But perhaps at the same time we can give thanks for the clarity that comes from being placed upon the crag, vulnerable and exposed, but also alive to the reality of God’s tender support beneath us. To teach us that we actually do depend on God when we ourselves have been depleted, to feel that we have been tenderly protected and redeemed—rescued from our sins and faults by the grace and protection of our living God.
As we turn toward Palm/Passion Sunday and Holy Week, may we hear anew the promise of those words, whether we are going through a rough hour, or a rough evening, or whether we are seeing the coral glistening of dawn break through the gloom of a long night. Loving Creator, I commend my spirit to You, for You have and always will redeem me, O Lord, O God of truth.
The Rev. Leslie Scoopmire is a writer, musician, and a priest in the Diocese of Missouri. She is rector of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Ellisville, MO. She posts daily prayers, meditations, and sermons at her blog Abiding In Hope, and collects spiritual writings and images at Poems, Psalms, and Prayers.