Happy are those whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the Lord. Psalm 119:1
Each of these eight verses—in fact, every one of the 176 verses in Psalm 119 —the Bible’s longest psalm—refers to God’s law, decrees, ways, precepts, statutes, commandments, or ordinances, which are absolute and immutable. The writer claims that those who are blameless, who walk in God’s ways, who follow the commandments, are happy, but even though he is working on keeping the commandments and praising God with an upright heart, he knows that he is not blameless. He has failed, and the psalm becomes a lament. “Do not utterly forsake me,” he writes in the last verse of the psalm, well aware of his sin. We can completely identify. We aspire to seek God with our whole heart, but we often go astray and need forgiveness over and over again.
“Let me live that I may praise you,” the psalmist writes in verse 175 of Psalm 119. His awareness of mortality is palpable, as is ours, especially during this Lenten season.
Anya Silver, a poet who died of metastatic breast cancer, once said that Ash Wednesday had become her favorite part of the church year. The ashes which were imposed on every forehead in her congregation comforted her because this was the one time of the year when everyone sitting in the pews next to her realized that they were dying. Ashes to ashes. She who was dying finally felt a profound fellowship with the dying worshipers all around her. “We die alone,” one poet has said, “yet we all die, mingled as one.”
In our baptism we have, however, already died. What is there to fear if our death is behind us, not looming without hope in front of us? God will not forsake us. That knowledge is true happiness.
Keep us steadfast, God, close to your ways, and happy in praise, knowing our salvation has already been promised through Christ Jesus. Amen.