What a Wonderful World!

A Reflection on Psalm 65 by Canon Rob,

20th February, 2nd Sunday before Lent.

Today, the 2nd Sunday before Lent, is also known as Sexagesima or the sixtieth day before Easter, a title which originated in the 6th Century. In the Eastern Church, the Sundays were named after the subjects of the reading from one of the Gospels and during the week following today, meat was not allowed to be eaten, perhaps because the Gospel was Jesus’ parable of the sower! (See Matthew’s Gospel, Chapter 13, verses 1 – 9.) The Church is often accused of being old-fashioned and irrelevant. Being faithful to its origins and keeping up with the times is a difficult tightrope on which to walk but it is useful to remember how our worship has evolved over the years, especially since the long trial period began in the mid 1960’s leading to the Alternative Service Book of 1980 and Common Worship, since 2000, with which church goers are familiar today. The Eucharist, or Holy Communion Service, which we now use is very similar to that used by members of the other main denominations and other Anglican Churches throughout the world: an example of how we are all trying to come closer together which is Christ’s will for us.

The psalm set for today is 65 which is about God’s creation in the world. We no longer have themes in the readings. If we did it would be more appropriate to have kept the Gospel with Jesus telling the parable of the sower, referred to above. Having said that, we can still, and should, celebrate all that God has made, and is making, perhaps more than we do. Psalm 65 helps us to do so and it is sometimes referred to as a harvest hymn. The first verse can be read as a call to prayer: “Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion; to you that answer prayer shall vows be made.”

However, looking at the psalm as a whole, it is clearly not just suitable for harvest. Indeed, only the last five verses are specific to harvest. Verse 11, printed on the picture here, suggests that the year in which the psalm was written was a good year with abundant crops. People at the time believed that God was entirely responsible for the outcome at harvest. So in verse 8 we read, “You visit the earth and water it; you make it very plenteous.” Try reading the last six verses slowly, using your imagination to picture the author of the psalm who is sitting on a hill overlooking the fields. There is a river in the valley with beautifully clear water murmuring as it travels towards the sea, and the corn sways and rustles, touched by the warm, gentle breeze. No wonder the psalmist is full of joy! But it is a joy in all creation and not just harvest.

The middle verses, 4 – 7, show this joy in creation leading us into the remainder of the psalm. It is also down to God and his goodness. The great Creator God answers the prayers of his people by his work of creation which is awesome as shown in verse 4. Then verses 5 and 6 give us an idea of just how powerful God is. “In your strength you set fast the mountains….” and “You still the raging of the seas, the roaring of their waves….” The psalms were written to be the hymn book of the Jewish people, but the writer of Psalm 65 knows that the truth of its words goes way beyond God’s chosen as we see in verse 7: “Those who dwell at the ends of the earth tremble at your marvels.” Is the author hoping, or even expecting, that those who live in the remotest parts of the world will come to believe in God because of what they see in the world around them? Whether or not that happened, today all of us are often rightly reminded of the need to care for this wonderful planet which is the home we all share.

May the richness of your creation, O God,
fill us with the joy which leads us to cherish all that you have made.

In humble gratitude!

A reflection on Psalm 188 by Canon Rob

(5th Sunday after Epiphany and Accession of Queen Elizabeth II.)

This psalm set for today’s Eucharist is one of celebration and hope, appropriate for the season of Epiphany and, coincidentally, appropriate for this day when we celebrate the Queen’s Accession in 1952 following the death of her father. The picture here is an icon of the visit of the three kings who worship the Christ-child: a reminder of the Epiphany but, as you look at it, give thanks and pray for our Queen whose faith in, and worship of, Christ have helped sustain her in the dedicated service of others for the past seventy years.

Reading through the psalm you will see that it is almost entirely positive. It is also personal, expressing gratitude for all that God has done. Picture in your mind the author facing Jerusalem as he prays (verse 2) just as Muslims face Mecca and, when we worship together, face East where the High Altar stands.

The psalm falls into three sections: verses 1-3 praising God; 4-6 expressing the hope that all kings will do as he is doing; 7-8 ending with a personal expression of trust in the future because God has been with him in the past. We are not told what the writer experienced which made him so sure that God had helped him. Clearly something did though as we can see in verse three: “In the day that I called to you, you answered me you put new strength in my soul.” Some question God’s existence and goodness when something goes wrong. “If there is a God how can he allow a pandemic like Covid to happen?” Others, though, either cling on to their faith or even come to faith through suffering. Yet others will have their faith strengthened and it seems that this is so for the author of Psalm 138. You may find it helpful to read Isaiah 40.21-31 alongside the psalm. These verses from the prophet come at a time when many Jewish people were in exile in Babylon. However Isaiah tells them to hold on to their faith because God will set them free. Verse 31: “…those who look to the Lord will win new strength, they will grow wings like eagles; they will run and not be weary, they will march on and never grow faint.” This is not a false optimism. God is faithful. He can be trusted whatever happens.

Verse 6 is also worth pondering because reading with the gift of hindsight as we do, it is reminiscent of the Magnificat, the Song of Mary. The psalmist writes, “Though the Lord be high, he watches over the lowly; as for the proud, he regards them from afar.” Those familiar with 1662 Evensong will remember Mary’s words, “He hath put down the mighty from their seat: and hath exalted the humble and meek” which themselves have a parallel with Hannah’s prayer in the First Book of Samuel 2.1-11.

So we come to verse 8 which may be thought to end on a rather negative note as you can see in the picture here. It starts as the psalm began with a statement of faith, but appears to end with a sense of doubt creeping in: “do not abandon the works of your hands.” It is probably a question of translation into English from the original Hebrew and the Good News Bible may be more in keeping with the author’s intention: “You will do everything you have promised; Lord, your love is eternal. Complete the work that you have begun.” Or as one commentator puts the last sentence, “You will not forsake those you are creating.” If this is accurate, the picture of the potter is appropriate. For it implies that we invite God to continually mould us during our lives so that we can become what he wants us to become.

Lord our God, supreme over all things,
we ask you to look upon the humble and lowly,
to put new strength into our souls and to complete your purpose for us
in Christ Jesus our Lord.

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