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]