The wonderful works of the Lord!

A Reflection on Psalm 104.28-36 by Canon Rob,
28th May 2023, The Feast of Pentecost

We have journeyed through Easter and Ascensiontide, celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and his return to his Father, and our Father, in Heaven. Today our celebrations continue as we remember how the first disciples received the Holy Spirit which Jesus had promised them: the Spirit who is God with us always and everywhere. Behind this journey lies the mystery of the Trinity, which we celebrate next Sunday: the Christian belief in the God who is Three in One. As we say in the Creed, our statement of faith: “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified.” It is a mystery, but we know no better way of trying to define God and how we experience Him in our daily lives.

This truth is behind today’s psalm which is the longest in the entire psalter in praise of God and His creation. Only a few verses are set for use today and verse 26 sums up this joyful hymn very well: “O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.” The verses before those set for today include a celebration of the greatness of God and of the earth with its springs and rain, mountains and fields, the food which is provided, the sun and moon. From verse 26 we reflect upon how we all depend upon God and, recognising this truth, the author praises God with songs of joy. “I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will make music to my God while I have my being.”[verse 35.] As you reflect upon these verses, you may find it helpful to read the second chapter of the Book of Genesis. Like the psalms, it is not to be read as science, but as poetry which beautifully describes what the author perceives and understands as he experiences the world around him. This in the days before cameras! How thankful we can be for the wonderful television programmes which capture nature and challenge us to care for, and cherish, this earth and all life. We do so, not for its own sake, but because we believe in the God who created it and whose presence we celebrate especially today.

Psalm 104 is then, a wonderful hymn of praise but, as always, it is realistic about facing life and death. There is nothing sentimental here. Verses 29 and 30 remind us that God provides all the food we need “in due season.” We celebrate that at Harvest-time. But verse 31 reminds us that we depend upon God for life itself: “…when you take away their breath, they die and return again to the dust.” Here again we find echoes of the story of creation near the beginning of the Bible. In Genesis 2.7 we read, “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. Thus the man became a living creature.” The Hebrew word used here for breath is “ruach” which also means wind or spirit, the latter significant for us on this Feast of Pentecost when we celebrate the coming and receiving of the Holy Spirit. One of the Gospel readings suggested for today is from John, Chapter 20, where the risen Jesus appears to his disciples and says to them, “Peace be with you…Then he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’.” Also one of the hymns suggested for today is “Breathe on me Breath of God, fill me with life anew, that as you love, so may I love, and do what you would do.” [84, Complete Anglican Hymns Old & New.] Through the Holy Spirit we are given new life in Jesus but we know that one day we will die and God will “take away our breath” as we read in verse 31. However, the resurrection of Jesus, and the promise he made to his disciples and those who would follow them, assures us that death is not the end. So we hope and pray that the God who gave us breath, and who sends His Holy Spirit, will remain with us beyond the grave, as He is with us whilst we live and breath on earth.

For the breath and spirit of life that you give and for
sustaining and preserving my life, I thank you, O Lord

[Marshall D. Johnson]

Who is worthy?

A Reflection on Psalm 15 by Canon Rob,
14th May 2023, Feast of St Matthias

Ruben’s painting of Matthias

In the Church’s Calendar, today is the Feast of St Matthias although falling on a Sunday this year, his Feast is transferred to tomorrow. However, as he was an apostle, let us remember him in this Reflection at least, and consider Psalm 15 which is the one set for ‘his day.’ As with many Saints, legends about about Matthias abound because we know so little about him, but the Acts of the Apostles [see Acts 1.15-26] tells us that following the betrayal by, and death of, Judas Iscariot the remaining apostles wanted to replace him and bring back their number to twelve. Matthias was chosen. He qualified because he had, apparently, been with Jesus during his three year ministry and was also a witness to the resurrection. Psalm 15 begins with the questions: “Lord who may dwell in your tabernacle? Who may rest upon your holy hill?” The apostles may have asked, “Who is worthy to replace Judas?” They understood the qualifications, but how to chose? Is it stretching the imagination too far to say that the answers to the questions raised in verse 1 of the psalm perhaps give an indication of the qualities required?

George Appleton, a former Bishop of Jerusalem, said, “…all the 613 commandments of the Pentateuch (the first five books in the Bible once attributed to Moses) are summed up in this psalm.” Psalm 15 gives a clear understanding of what is needed for someone to have access to God. That includes being “uncorrupt” and doing “right,” (verse 2) “speaking the truth,” and bearing “no deceit,” (verse 3) doing “no evil,” (verse 4) and so on. Elsewhere in the Old Testament, we find references similar to some of these “conditions.” The prophet Isaiah. e.g., refers to “the man who lives an upright life and speaks the truth” [See Isaiah 33.15] and in the Book of Exodus we read, “You shall not accept a bribe, for bribery makes the discerning man blind….” [Exodus 23.8] Verse 7 of our psalm condemns bribery “against the innocent.” The person who was chosen to take the place of Judas Iscariot had a lot to live up to!

Psalm 15 possibly formed part of a liturgy as worshippers entered the Temple in Jerusalem, rather like singing an introit hymn at the beginning of Christian worship, although such hymns could be said to contain more words of hope than the words conveyed by Psalm 15. “Awake, awake: fling off the night” is one introit hymn we sing at St Dunstan’s occasionally with it’s third verse:

Let in the light; all sin expose to Christ, whose life no darkness knows.
Before his cross for guidance kneel; his light will judge and, judging, heal.”

Penitence and judgement are called for in this hymn, just as they are behind the words of the psalm. As we acknowledge in the first prayer we say together at the Eucharist, God knows everything about us for from Him no secrets are hidden. However, we live in hope because we believe that through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ we have a new relationship with God which the author of the Psalm could not know. He was waiting for the Messiah, the Saviour.

Yet Psalm 15 still begs the question, “Who is worthy?” Who is worthy to enter the House of God, be that the Temple (as in the psalm) or a Christian church? Who is worthy to live in God’s presence? Who is worthy to be one of Christ’s disciples? The answer is an emphatic “no one!” Yet, through His perfect Love revealed in and through Jesus, we are accepted and forgiven just as we are. That doesn’t mean we can do as we please. However, it does mean that as we try and follow Jesus in our day to day lives, we are encouraged to do so because we are loved.

Lord, lead us to our heavenly home by single steps of self-restraint and deeds of righteousness.
[Prayer at the end of Psalm 15 in Common Worship, Daily Prayer]

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