April 5, 2020

Their Voice Goes Out

The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.
Ps. 19:1-4a

The 19th Psalm is as confusing as it is glorious. The heavens declare and the firmament proclaims, days and nights both speak. And yet, as if in the same breath, the psalmist declares that there is no speech, no words, no voice. This is followed immediately by the declaration that there is indeed a voice, and there are in fact words.

What's going on here? I think the answer is obvious: The psalm isn't contradicting itself. I simply need to broaden my definition of language. I might first think of the sign language used by those without a sense of hearing. When they communicate, I hear neither speech nor words, yet anything I can say or understand audibly can also be expressed with fingers, hands, and facial expressions. From here, I might expand my understanding to the wordless language of nature, which expresses far more than any limited human speech can either say or understand. From the budding leaf to the stars in the universe, from the earthworm to the sun making its course across the sky, what I observe is only a fraction of of the sermon nature is delivering.

As I approach the church's annual remembrance of the passion of Jesus, I must also accept that no human language is adequate to describe the events of Holy Week and Easter. God's message to us is recorded in the words of scripture. But those words are the tiniest fraction of what the life and death of the Son of God tell me. I feel this in my bones, even when my mouth is unequal to the task of describing what I feel.

So just as the heavens wordlessly express the glory of creation, so the cross and empty tomb wordlessly bring me the message of my own re-creation, wrought in the glorification of Jesus Christ.

What language shall I borrow
to thank thee, dearest Friend,
for this thy dying sorrow,
thy pity without end?
O make me thine for ever;
and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never
outlive my love to thee.
Paul Gerhardt (transl. J.W. Alexander)
I pray in the Name of the One who taught me to pray: Our Father...

 

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