A Reflection on Psalm 103.1-8 by Canon Rob, 21st August,10th Sunday after Trinity.
Central to a Christian’s life is worship and among the variety of Services we can attend, the Eucharist (Holy Communion) is the most important. The word “Eucharist” means “to give thanks” or “to praise” and Psalm 30 is considered by scholars to be one of the greatest hymns of praise and joy in the whole Book of Psalms. Those who include this psalm in their Eucharist this morning will be reminded of many of the things to thank God for:“his benefits” as verse 2 calls them. As we read through the verses set for today, we can reflect upon what those benefits are. God forgives us, he heals us, he gives life after death, offers us his love and compassion, fills us with good things even as we get older (See verse 8 and the picture below), judges justly and honestly and offers justice to those who are oppressed, reveals himself to us, is “slow to anger” and is “full of compassion, mercy” and “great kindness.” It’s not surprising that those who can say “Amen” (I agree) to all of these will want to say a ONE BIG THANK YOU (as on BBC’s ‘One Show’) to God!! Wow!!
From an early age many of us are taught the importance of saying ‘thank you’ when, for example, we receive a gift for our birthday or when someone helps us or is kind to us. Saying thank you to someone can encourage them to continue the good work they are doing. Being grateful also helps us to not take something, or someone, for granted. How easily that can happen! These verses of Psalm 103 can therefore help each of us a great deal as we make time to reflect upon them, not least because psychologists agree that recalling things to be grateful for each day can help our mental well-being. The more we do that, the more fulfilling we find life and that is something which Jesus said he came on earth to do. In John’s Gospel in the New Testament, Jesus is having a conversation about shepherds and sheep during which he says, “I have come in order that you may have life – life in all its fullness. I am the good shepherd who is willing to die for his sheep.” [See John Chapter 10, verses 7-10]
Being thankful each day is a state of mind, as much as it is a way of living a life of faith. We will all go through experiences in life which drag us down.Yet there are many examples of people who, even when they are suffering or approaching death remain positive and grateful for the good things that happen. You don’t have to be a Christian to maintain this attitude! It is nonetheless a blessing and one which all of us can practise. Reflecting on the verses of this morning’s psalm is a good place to start but if you feel that it is all rather simplistic, or even trite, may I suggest that you read the entire psalm? The author, like all the authors of the psalms, is a realist and he knows first hand what it is to suffer hardships. Not for nothing are verses 13-17 often used during funeral services. In Psalm 103, praise and thanksgiving to God have emerged through a period of loss or pain. It could also be [see verses 3, 8 and 10] that the writer has carried a burden of guilt but something has happened which makes him realise that God has forgiven him. To experience forgiveness is to be given the chance to start again, to make a fresh start! And that is something to be really grateful for.
The psalm is very personal, beginning with the words, “Bless, the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name.” But reference to Moses in verse 7 means that it could be used during communal worship and then it relates to the community, the whole people of God. If so, it would be much the same as when we sing a hymn, like “Praise my soul, the King of Heaven”- a favourite at weddings. Being personally grateful can lead to doing things with others, for the benefit of others, like food banks run by volunteers throughout the country.
And so through all the length of days thy goodness faileth never;
Good Shepherd, may I sing thy praise within thy house for ever.
[Last verse of the hymn, “The King of love my shepherd is.]