An invitation to celebrate

A Reflection on Psalm 96.1-9 by Canon Rob,
October 22nd, The Twentieth Sunday after Trinity

One of the hymns we sing during the season of Epiphany, which follows Christmas and celebrates the Visit of the Three Kings to the infant Jesus, is “O Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.” [552 in the “Complete Anglican Hymns Old and New.”] It is a beautiful hymn and, as we sing it, we can imagine ourselves following the example of the Kings, as they kneel before the child who they recognise as the Saviour of the world. The opening words of the hymn come from the first half of verse 9 in today’s psalm: a psalm which is a call to the whole of nature to worship the Creator; although you will need to read all the verses to fully appreciate this. Those who attend Morning Prayer (or Matins) will be familiar with the previous psalm: number 95, called “The Venite,” which simply means “Come,” and Psalm 96 continues that theme. As you reflect upon the verses, you may like to read 1 Chronicles 16.23-33 in the Old Testament and you will find that the psalm is reproduced almost word for word – depending on which translation of the Bible you read. In the Book of Chronicles, the psalm was recited when the Ark of the Covenant was brought to Jerusalem whilst David was King. However, it is now generally agreed that the psalm was written first and then included in the Book. Whatever, Psalm 96 belongs to a group of what some commentators call “enthronement psalms” which celebrate the majesty of God and would be said, or sung, on special occasions. Indeed, if you look through Psalms 95 to 100, you will find that several phrases are common to all of them, rejoicing in the Kingship and Majesty of God who is worthy of our praise.

The Book of Psalms was originally written for worship by the members of the Jewish community and when we recite them, as we do during Evensong, we can easily remember that. However, it is natural that when we use them in church worship, we view the psalms from a Christian perspective. You will see this in the picture here, where verse 4 of today’s psalm is printed in the shape of the Cross on which Christ died and from which, we believe, he reigned as King. Referring to Psalm 96, the Oxford Bible Commentary says some of the Church Fathers “regarded the psalm as a prophecy of the cross, an interpretation reflected in the hymn ‘The royal banners forward go.’”[663 in the hymn book mentioned above which we use at St Dunstan’s Church.]

Another thing to consider as you reflect on today’s psalm is that the invitation to celebrate is open to all. From verse 1, “all the earth” is called upon to “sing to the Lord, a new song.” If it was sung when the Ark of the Covenant was brought to Jerusalem and into the new Temple, was this an open invitation for everyone to join the celebrations: Gentiles along with Jews? At this time of terrible news from the Holy Land with little hope of peace, it would be good to believe that at an act of such joy divisions, animosity and hatred were left behind! A celebration which brought everyone together – rather like a Coronation or the Olympic Games. Whether or not that hope can ever be fully realised, it is worth hanging on to and praying for daily. Verse 9 of Psalm 96 certainly holds before us the desire for the “whole earth to tremble before [the Lord.]Once more, looking through the eyes of our Christian faith, this verse can remind us of the final words uttered by Jesus at the end of St Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus is speaking to his disciples, his closest friends and followers, before he leaves them to return to his Father in Heaven. [See Matthew 28,16-20.] He says of himself, “full authority in heaven and on earth has been committed to me,” just as verse 6 of Psalm 96 speaks of “Honour and majesty are before him [the Lord.] Jesus then tells his friends to “Go….and make all nations my disciples…” This is surely something else to keep praying and working for! Amen.

Lord Christ, as we worship you and celebrate your presence among us
help us to be examples of the love and peace which are your gifts to all.

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Living by the Law

A Reflection on Psalm 19.7-end by Canon Rob
October 8th, The Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity

Psalm 19 can be divided into three sections. The first six verses In January last celebrate the Glory of God in His Creation and we reflected on those verses in January last year. Verses 7 – 10 are about God’s Glory in His Law and then the final four verses reveal what should be the human response to God, recognising that we fall short of what God wills for us. The difference in tone between the first six verses and those remaining is striking. God’s creation happens without humans being involved. The “law of the Lord,” referred to in verse 7, however is the Torah: God’s law revealed to Moses by which the Chosen People are to live.

One of the main roles of Parliament, in the United Kingdom and in other democratic countries, is to debate and pass new laws or change those which already exist. Concern about the increase in illegal immigration, for example, has led to the “Illegal Migration Bill” which received Royal Assent in July. In our post-Christian society how many laws come under “God’s will” is debatable. Yet it is to be hoped they will all, at least, be humanitarian. At the time when Psalm 19 was written the “law of the Lord” would be the guide to be followed and to stray from it would result in punishment. Yet verses 7 – 11 of today’s psalm are entirely positive. Look at verse 8: “The statutes of the Lord are right and rejoice the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure and gives light to the eyes.” Far from bemoaning rules and regulations the author celebrates God’s laws. They are, as verse 8 puts it, “More to be desired are they than gold…..sweeter also than honey.” For the psalmist, and those who recited Psalm 19 in worship, keeping the commandments was the way to happiness. Verse 11 refers to God’s law as existing to teach His People and for those who were eager to learn and follow them “there is great reward.” As you reflect on these verses, imagine being in a classroom at school, or a lecture hall at college, where you are keen to learn because you love the subject being taught. That is the image which comes to mind as I am typing these words. The opening verses of this psalm are a celebration of God’s creation, but the celebration continues. Rather than being a burden, keeping “the law of the Lord” at this time in Israel’s history, was a joy

The mood shifts somewhat in the closing verses. The author, and those who recite the psalm, recognise that they fall short of upholding “the law of the Lord.” Like us, they were human and far from perfect. Verse 12 is honest in its request to God that He “will cleanse me from my secret thoughts.” How like the intention of the Prayer of Preparation which we say at every Eucharist: “Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts…” We begin our worship recognising our sinfulness in the presence of the Almighty and Merciful God who knows us completely, but who assures us that He loves and forgives us even when, as we acknowledge in the Prayer of Confession: “We have not loved you [God] with our whole heart [nor] loved our neighbours as ourselves.” I suspect that most within our society today seldom use the word “sin.” Has it become the preserve of those who are religious? It’s easier to talk about ‘faults’ and ‘mistakes’ but ‘sin’ is a loaded word which can make us uncomfortable. In verse 13 of today’s psalm, the author writes of “presumptuous sins” which can “get dominion over me.” These are proud thoughts which can get out of hand. God’s help is called upon “so shall I be undefiled.” The final plea is that the writer’s motives, words, thoughts and actions will please God and be “acceptable in your [God’s] sight.” The psalm which began with celebration for the wonder of God’s creation and continues with much soul searching ends on a very positive note about the personal relationship which those with faith can have with their Maker who is “my strength and my redeemer.”

Thanks be to God for creating us, loving us and saving us from our sins.

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