Facing our Fear

A Reflection on Psalm 27.1-11 by Canon Rob,
22nd January 2023, the Third Sunday of Epiphany

Today’s psalm is a personal prayer expressing confidence in the God who, as verse 1 puts it, “is my light and my salvation;” and continues, “whom then shall I fear?” The answer to the question is assumed to be: nothing and no one! In these weeks during Epiphany, we are reminded that God in Christ is with us and, as you reflect upon Psalm 27, it will be helpful to keep this in your mind. We can only guess the context in which the author writes. Some commentaries suggest the background is a battle which has been won – perhaps a failed attempt to overrun Jerusalem? It might be that the author is reflecting on God’s presence whilst seeking sanctuary in the Temple. Whatever, he feels completely safe as made clear in verse 2: “When the wicked, even my enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell.” The Lord is his stronghold, just as Christians believe that Jesus Christ is with us, saving us, today. If you have sat in an empty church, especially a very old one like St Dunstan’s, you may have experienced a sense of real peace which can best be explained by feeling Christ’s presence and even the prayers of thousands offered through the years.

This is what the author of the psalm is trying to explain in the beautiful words of verses 4, 5 and 6. So great is this peace that he desires only one thing: to “dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of [his]life.” [Verse 4.] Not for nothing have churches long been places of sanctuary. In the psalm, reference to the “house of the Lord” may be literal but it could be used figuratively, meaning the desire to be in God’s presence always – not just in the Temple or, for us, the church building. We know, by faith, that God is with us always, hence the title Emmanuel given to Jesus, a title meaning “God with us.” God is not limited to what we call “God’s House!” But certain places hold a special meaning for us. How good it is that, after the pandemic, St Dunstan’s is open each day once again! How important it was for the writer of the psalm to have a sacred place to go to, where he could find refuge.

Yet, as other psalms remind us, it is God who is our ultimate refuge. Psalm 46, for example, begins with the words, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” In verse 8 of today’s psalm, the author writes, “I will offer in his [God’s] dwelling an oblation with great gladness; I will sing and make music to the Lord.” And we can imagine him praising God as we do during our worship in church today. However, like us, he knows that he can call upon God at all times and in all places. So, verse 9 begins, “Here my voice, O Lord, when I call…” and then he continues in the following verse, “My heart tells of your word, ‘Seek my face.’ Your face, Lord, will I seek.” This may recall part of the speech of Moses, in Deuteronomy 4.25-31, where the people are told that when they turn their backs on false idols and “you seek the Lord, you will find him.”

This is true for people of faith for all time and for us, to seek the Lord’s face means to turn to Him, or be still and open and aware of His presence wherever we are, and know in our hearts that He welcomes us and offers us encouragement and hope, not least if we are struggling, or perhaps trying to face something of which we are afraid. We might be heading towards the end of January, and the New Year may seem a long time ago, but much in the news remains the same as it was a few weeks ago and it is perfectly normal to feel anxious about the future. So today’s psalm comes to us at an opportune time, to bring us reassurance and even courage, as we find in one of the hymns set for Epiphany: “Put thou thy trust in God” and includes the verse:

“Give to the wind thy fears; hope and be undismayed:
God hears thy sighs and counts thy tears; God shall lift up thy head.”

[Hymn 576 in “Complete Anglican Hymns Old and New”]
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