Christ rules in our hearts and lives!

A Reflection on Psalm 46 by Canon Rob,
20th November, Feast of Christ the King.

Immediately after Queen Elizabeth 2nd died on 8th September, her son Charles was pronounced King, just as Elizabeth had been pronounced Queen as soon as her father had died in 1952. “The Queen is dead: God save the King!” I was struck by something I read in the days after. It said that King Charles, like his mother before him, reigns but does not rule! My dictionary defines “reign” as, “to hold royal office” and “rule” as, “to exercise power over.” [Longman Modern English Dictionary.”] There is a subtle, but important difference. Our monarch has no power or authority as such. However she, or he, has a great deal of influence.

Today is a very special day in the Church’s calendar. The Feast of Christ the King was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925 to celebrate “the all-embracing authority of Christ.” [The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church.] Now, widely celebrated, it reminds us that it is Christ, and not any human leader, who rules the world. [See the hymn, Eternal Ruler of the ceaseless round…] The picture above is known as“Christus Rex.” Christ the King! Not a human king who reigns, but the Divine King who rules. Psalm 46 tells us,“God is our refuge and strength.” King Charles 3rd reigns under the authority and power of God and those who have faith in Him, believe God to be the One who is always present not least when we are, as the psalmist says, “in trouble.” Quite what that trouble was, is spelt out in some detail in verses 2 and 3 of today’s psalm which are even more alarming when read in the Jerusalem Version, rather than in our more familiar Common Worship: “so we shall not be afraid when the earth gives way, when mountains tumble into the depths of the sea, and its waters roar and seethe, the mountains tottering as it heaves.” It is a scene of chaos, which we also find in the opening verses of the Book of Genesis, and which God overcame when he created the world. Just as God brought order out of chaos in the beginning, the author of the psalm believes He continues to do so. Put simply, God is always on our side! One commentary gives Psalm 46 the title, “The Sheltering God” and its message is similar to that of the psalm we thought about in the previous Reflection: Psalm 17.1-8; with the image of God hiding us under the shadow of his wings. Whatever the writer of Psalm 46 has in mind, this chaos is clearly terrifying. However, such strength of faith does he have, that he will not fear. Remember though that the writers of the psalms were all realists! They express a strong faith in God who will save them, but they do not see life through rose-tinted glasses. As one of my commentaries says, “[This]is a psalm in which the test of faith is pushed to its ultimate limit.”

We are currently living through a period of great uncertainty. The war in Ukraine: what will Mr Putin do next? Insecurity for many at work: who will go on strike next? First time buyers: how can they plan when mortgage prices increase more and more? Food shortages! Energy prices! A possible flu epidemic! Increasing abuse on social media! Climate change! No doubt you can add to the list of things which cause you to be anxious. If the writer of Psalm 46 was alive today, he would probably say, “Things never change!” For there has never been a time when all was peace and harmony. But, we can reflect on today’s psalm and pray that the ever-present God, who is our “refuge and strength,” will help us through this critical time. Look at verses 2 and 3 again and then read verse 4. “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God….” What a contrast! We have moved from being overcome by raging waters and an earthquake, to a gentle river with streams. Beside it we can be still. With faith and trust, here we can put aside our anxieties and rest awhile and listen to His message today: Christ the King has overcome pain and death and offers us new life. Even now, with so much bad news, Christ rules!

God of Jacob, when the earth shakes and the nations are in uproar,
speak, and let the storms be still, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
[Prayer at the end of Psalm 46 in Common Worship: Daily Prayer]

Being Confident in God

A Reflection on Psalm 17.1-8 by Canon Rob,
6th November, 3rd Sunday before Advent

Surprisingly, the refrain and heading for Psalm 17 in “Common Worship: Daily Prayer” is “The Lord is my strength and my song.” I say “surprisingly” because the tone in most verses is a cry for help. The author is clearly desperate for the Lord to hear his prayer as we see in the words accompanying the picture here. The version in Common Worship, which we use at St Dunstan’s makes it sound even more urgent. “Hear my just cause, O Lord; consider my complaint; listen to my prayer, which comes not from lying lips.” Some commentaries suggest this psalm was written by David himself at a time when he was trying to escape from King Saul. [See 1 Samuel 23.19-29.] Whether or not this is true, there is no doubt that the author is feeling, not only under possible attack, but also suffering a great injustice.

It also seems that the author is full of himself! See verse 3 for example: “Weigh my heart, examine me by night, refine me, and you will find no impurity within me.” Who does he think he is!Yet his main aim is to plead for justice and he is doing his very best to ask God to take his side, to understand what he is going through, then to relieve him of this agony, which takes us back to the refrain mentioned above. The author can plead with God for justice because he trusts His strength and His song. The Lord will stand by him. Perhaps it is helpful to imagine a court of law in which a person who is innocent is standing before the judge, pleading for the truth to be heard because the judge is known to be totally honest and wise. Verse 6 suggests this is true: “I call upon you, O God, for you will answer me; incline your ear to me, and listen to my words.” As long as God listens to his plea, he has confidence that he will win his case. Justice will be served, because he has no doubt that the Lord is listening, understands and, most importantly, knows what is true. We may be right to think that the author of the psalm is full of himself, and we might also assume that we would never begin a plea for God’s help by boasting. But it is certainly the case that he has great faith in God. He is totally confident that the Lord will hear the prayers of those who follow His commandments, because he has learned that from his reading of the Scriptures. In verse 7 he asks, “Show me your marvellous loving-kindness.” Loving-kindness, especially in Coverdale’s version of the Bible, is loaded with meaning. It is a translation of the Hebrew word ‘chesed,’ used when referring to God’s relationship with His chosen people. We find it over 20 times in the Book of Psalms, combining both ‘love’ and ‘loyalty,’ behind which is the remembrance of the Covenant which God made with His people. George Matheson’s hymn, “O Love that wilt not let me go” [519 in Complete Anglican Hymns which we use] sums up the meaning well. We do not deserve this love. It is a free gift of God and the author of Psalm 17 believed this to be true which is why he can plead with God in the way that he does.

Verse 8 reinforces the author’s faith and, for me at least, is one of the most beautiful verses in the entire Book of Psalms. “Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me under the shadow of your wings.” Those who have attended a Service of Compline, or Night Prayer, will remember the verse being used: so apt for this act of worship, which the note in Common Worship describes as “a service of quietness and reflection before rest at the end of the day.” The verse conveys two thoughts about God’s protective care, summed up in the picture here. God watches over us at all times and he keeps us close to Him. These are what the author of Psalm 17 is really asking for. With both, he knows that he will receive the justice which he prays for and he can live in peace, loving the Lord his God and being loved by Him.

Show your steadfast love, O Lord, to all who put their trust in you,
and who seek refuge in your protective care

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