Being Alive

A Reflection on Psalm 118 verses 14-24 by Canon Rob, Easter Day

When asked how he felt, having recovered from a heart attack, the patient replied, “I’m glad to be here,” and that would probably be a common response because, unless we are clinically depressed or suicidal, we cling on to life. “I’m glad to be here” is affirmation of the gift of life and that is true whether or not we have a faith in God.

Psalm 118 is an ancient hymn of praise and thanksgiving for the gift of life and is believed to have been written, after a great national event, to be sung in the Temple of Jerusalem by three different groups of people. (See verses 2-4). The verses used in churches today can be seen in the light of a victory. They may have been recited by the king at the time: certainly a leader of the people. Verse 14: “The Lord is my strength and my song and he has become my salvation.” Whichever it is, he is speaking not just for himself but on behalf of the whole people who are celebrating with him. Verse 18 shows that things did not go well. It begins, “The Lord punished me sorely.” We are not told what that punishment was. Perhaps it was a battle which was won after a long and painful struggle. However it ended well: for the Lord “has not given me over to death.”

Jump ahead in time to today, Easter Day, and the verses of Psalm 118 are read in a very different context to that in which they were originally meant. Yet they are entirely appropriate because they are for us a hymn of thanksgiving and praise for the gift of new life in Jesus who, three days after he died on the cross, was raised to life again. The resurrection is the victory of all victories: one which remains true for all time and nothing can take it away. Easter Day is indeed “the day which the Lord has made.” (See verses 24).

Verse 22 can be read in conjunction with Mark’s Gospel, chapter 12 verses 1 – 12, and especially verse 11 where Jesus quotes that verse from the psalm: “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” In the passage from the Gospel Jesus is telling the Parable of the Tenants in the Vineyard, at the end of which it is clear that he is the stone. The parable is a real turning point in Jesus’ public ministry and he uses it to tell his disciples that he will soon not only be rejected but killed. However, death will not be the end. It will mark a new beginning and he will rise again and reign over the world in glory. (You might also find it helpful to reflect upon verses 18 – 27 of chapter 12 where Jesus answered a question put to him about life after death.)

The verses of the Psalm 118, which we are reflecting upon, make it very clear that God is the One who always takes the initiative when it comes to the gift of life on both sides of the grave. Verse 14, where we begin today, tells us, “The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.” We cannot save ourselves. Only God can do that. So, in verse 21 we find the words, “I will give thanks to you, [the Lord] for you have answered me and have become my salvation.” The death and resurrection of Jesus are the ultimate proof of this and it was to show the world God loves us all completely that Jesus, the chief cornerstone, died and rose again on the first Easter Day.

On this day of all days, we are encouraged therefore to reflect upon what all this means for us, both collectively as “an Easter people,” and also as individual members of Christ’s Body, the Church. We know that Jesus was rejected and history shows that many who have followed Jesus have also been rejected. Our story is no fairy tale. However today also shows that there is a way of living in which we can be certain that Jesus Christ, our Saviour, is alive and present with us always, whatever life throws at us. This becomes clear the more we make time to be aware of his presence. Above the door of Pomposa Abbey in northern Italy is an inscription in Latin which translated means, “Let us love what is eternal and not what is transient.” Today we celebrate what is eternal. Have a truly Happy and Blessed Easter! Alleluia!!

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his mercy endures for ever.

Being Alive Read More »

Back to Square One?

A Reflection on Psalm 126 by Canon Rob, 3rd April

Think back, if you can, to a time when everything seemed to go wrong and you felt as if this bad time would never end. Then it does. Life gets “back to normal” and you find yourself saying, “Thank the Lord!” and breath a sigh of relief. The first three verses of Psalm 126 put that sense of relief into words. Indeed there is more to it than this, for in those early verses the author is encouraging his readers to remember the good times, and specifically the time when God delivered the people of Israel from captivity in exile in Babylon. Cyrus, the king, allowed them to return to their homeland in about 538 B.C. They probably couldn’t believe it at first for as verse 1 says, “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, then were we like those who dream.” But it was true and they were filled with joy. Or as verse 2 puts it, “Then was our mouth filled with laughter and our tongue with songs of joy.” What beautiful words which sum up so well that sense of relief.

We all know that life is full of “ups and downs” and, as long as the down times are not too bad, we learn to cope. However, sometimes when one thing after another goes wrong and, just as we are getting over it, something else happens and we feel as if we are back to square one again. For those suffering from “Long Covid” this is what life can be like for them. One day they feel really well and then the day after they are completely exhausted and can’t concentrate on anything. When I was a practising counsellor, clients – who were making good progress – could turn up one day feeling very low and being really hard on themselves, convinced they were “back to square one” again. It was difficult to help them to see that they weren’t because that is very seldom, in fact probably never, the case even though it feels like it.

Quite what had happened to the people of God we don’t know, but clearly it was something serious and the people were in trouble again. They were “back to square one!” Here we again see how the author of the psalm has the gift of being able to put pen to paper (as it were) and express so well experiences which we human beings go through. The whole of life is in the psalms which is why I have grown to love them through the years. Recognising their anguish, the author sets about encouraging the people. Verse 5 of today’s psalm puts this so well: “Restore again our fortunes, O Lord, as the river beds of the desert.” The river beds probably refer to the streams in the southern part of their country which become dry in the summer but, during the winter months, overflow with water. So he reminds the people in verses 6 and 7 that whilst they will have exhausted themselves ploughing and sowing, and fearful that the seed will not grow and produce a crop to feed them, there will be rain and all will be well. “Those who sow in tears shall reap with songs of joy.”

Today is known in the Church as Passion Sunday and next Sunday will be Palm Sunday, when we remember Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, also marking the beginning of Holy Week. But from today we know we are getting closer to Good Friday when we recall that Jesus died on the cross. This is a sad period for Christians, a time to contemplate the last days of Jesus’ life as we have known it until now. This is the time to “sow in tears,” as the writer of Psalm 126 puts it, to pray and try and imagine the turmoil which Jesus must have gone through as he knew it was inevitable that he would die soon. You may find it helpful to reflect on the words of St. John’s Gospel, Chapter 12 verses 1-8, which is read in churches today. This is the beginning of the end and many tears were shed. But, with hindsight and faith, we also know that before too long we shall rejoice “with songs of joy.”

O give us faith to stay here, to wait, to watch and pray here,
and witness to your cry; in scarred and tearful faces,
in countless painful places, you give us hope that will not die.

[Last verse of the hymn “O Lord of our salvation” which is 513 in our hymn book: ‘Complete Anglican, Hymns Old & New’]

Back to Square One? Read More »

Scroll to Top