“Him whom the cross could not daunt nor the grave contain” – a homily on Psalm 75 (Confitebimur Tibi) by Fr. Charles McClean

In our series of meditations on the Book of Psalms we come this evening to Psalm 75, which in a very real sense is a response to Psalm 74.

In Psalm 74 the psalmist laments the destruction of Jerusalem, its temple, its priesthood, and the monarchy of David’s royal line. But most of all the psalmist laments the apparent silence of God. And so toward the end of Psalm 74 the psalmist cries out:

Arise, O God, defend your own cause; remember how the foolish scoff at you all the day! Do not forget the clamor of your foes, the uproar of those who rise against you which goes on continually!

And then in Psalm 75 God Himself responds:

At the set time that I appoint I will judge with equity…I say to the boastful, “Do not boast,” and to the wicked, “Do not lift up your horn [the horn being a symbol of strength like the horns of an ox charging a toreador], do not lift up your horn on high or speak with haughty neck.”

Yes, “At the set time that I appoint I will judge,” says the Lord. And the psalmist continues:

It is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another. For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup with foaming wine, well-mixed, and He pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it to the dregs.

And so in the face of the apparent triumph of evil God declares that He will judge the wicked “at the set time that I appoint.” Note carefully! He will judge “at the set time that [He] appoints,” most surely on that Last and Great day when the thoughts of all hearts will be revealed.

But in the meantime the apparent triumph of evil continues unabated; and it is at times very difficult to make any sense of what transpires in this fallen world, a world in rebellion against its Maker, a world deceived and manipulated by the Prince of Darkness who “disguises himself as an angel of light.”

I often think that the ninth, tenth, and eleventh chapters of Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Romans are some of the most difficult chapters in all of Holy Scripture. For in these three chapters Saint Paul ponders the purpose of God in history, specifically the apparent evil of Israel’s rejection of her Messiah together with the inclusion of the Gentiles in the people of God. Paul struggles, he argues, he ponders; but having struggled at length, in the end he (as it were) just throws up his hands and exclaims,

O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been His counselor…For from Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things to whom be glory forever!

Unaided reason can never truly discern the purpose of God in history because the facts of the case as we perceive them are — to put it mildly — ambiguous. You can look at the observable facts and conclude that the Maker of all things is truly good to all He has made. You can also look at the observable facts and in them sense not the goodness but the wrath of God, His unsearchable judgments, His ways past finding out.

And here the matter would rest were it not for the mystery of what took place outside the city gates of Jerusalem on one dark Friday — when beyond all reason, expectation, and hope, God Himself in the flesh drained to the dregs the cup of God’s wrath against sinners so that the sins of the world might be forgiven and death swallowed up in the death of Him whom the cross could not daunt nor the grave contain. Here is revealed — insofar as human sight can bear it — the mystery of God’s hidden purpose: not the ultimate judgment and destruction of His human creatures and whole creation, but the conquest of death by Life, the Life which bursts from the open tomb before dawn on the first day of the week. For there we in fact see within history the End of history when, as Saint Paul writes to the Romans, “creation itself shall” — in a way that we cannot now even begin dimly to imagine — “be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God.”

In the meantime we live within the storms of history and the storms of our own little lives. But as those forgiven through Jesus who drained the cup of God’s wrath to the bitter dregs for us, whose we are through baptism, we have the glorious certainty that we stand not under God’s wrath but under His never-failing mercy, so that any storms we suffer, any miseries we endure, are not wrath but crosses whereby we are more fully conformed to the image of Jesus crucified.

In the Lesson from the book of Revelation to St. John which we heard just a few moments ago, we heard of how no one was found worthy to open the book and loose the seven seals — that is, no one was able to discover the secret, hidden purpose of God — no one but the Lamb who was slain. For in Him alone, in His cross and in His triumph we see the truly loving purpose of God from the foundation of the world. And in this we rejoice and give thanks!

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