Another Easter Vigil Scripture, though one you may not hear (or sing) unless your parish is bold enough to do all seven Old Testament readings. This merging of Psalms 42 and 43 follows the reading from Ezekiel 36. If it’s chosen infrequently for Holy Saturday night, it appears even less frequently at the funeral Mass. Too bad; it’s a quite lyrical and beautiful piece.
My soul is thirsting for the living God: when shall I see him face to face?
Like the deer that yearns
for running streams,
so my soul is yearning
for you, my God.
My soul is thirsting for God,
the God of my life;
when can I enter and see
the face of God.
O send forth your light and your truth;
let these be my guide.
Let them bring me to your holy mountain
to the place where you dwell.
And I will come to the altar of God,
the God of my joy.
My redeemer, I will thank you on the harp,
O God, my God.
Why are you cast down, my soul,
why groan within me?
Hope in God; I will praise him still,
my savior and my God.
Not all of these verses are sung at the Easter Vigil. The fifth stanza given is not–it’s a repeated refrain in the structure of Psalm 42-43, which suggests to Scripture scholars these two psalms were once a single unit. Whether true or not, these two psalms together suggest something of a pilgrimage, perhaps a journey in grief and sadness, yet tinged with hope. Good for Holy Week. Good for funerals and the confrontation with human death and grief.
The psalmist admits a deep neediness, a reliance on God, something as basic as the need for a living thing for water. We humans share thirst for water with plants and animals alike. If we are honest with ourselves, we have a need for God that is just as basic as the reality of biological chemistry.
Another basic need: light. Unless we live at an undersea hydrothermal vent, we need light to thrive. And for the believer, the feelings expressed in 42:7, the waves pouring over us in our time of darkness, we might as well be submerged deep in the ocean when God seems absent.
To the faithful psalmist, thirst will be quenched and darkness lifted in temple worship. And presumably, the spiritual grace and sustenance offered there, close to God and one’s sisters and brothers in belief. That fifth stanza above is the thrice-repeated refrain of this Psalm 42-43 unit. If it seems a little like a doubled personality, consider how conflicted our feelings may be at the time of a loved one’s death. Inside we urge ourselves as people of faith to show faith. And yet we are “cast down” and “groaning” within. We tell ourselves to have hope. Yet a big chunk of ourselves finds it hard to accept that advice.
Being able to bring our fractured and conflicted interior life to God is essential to a spiritual transcendence of grief. It also gives believers a profound reflection not only at the Easter Vigil, but for all of Holy Week. If Jesus can pray with abandonment on our lips, we should be bold enough to confess that, and even our anger before God.
Psalm 42-43 is a lament. Our culture encourages us to gloss over such feelings, or to drown them in anger and in lashing out at others. Singing this psalm may not be a popular choice. But for some mourners, it may offer sentiments fruitful for both the relationship with God and our own grief at the loss of a loved one.