In humble gratitude!

A reflection on Psalm 188 by Canon Rob

(5th Sunday after Epiphany and Accession of Queen Elizabeth II.)

This psalm set for today’s Eucharist is one of celebration and hope, appropriate for the season of Epiphany and, coincidentally, appropriate for this day when we celebrate the Queen’s Accession in 1952 following the death of her father. The picture here is an icon of the visit of the three kings who worship the Christ-child: a reminder of the Epiphany but, as you look at it, give thanks and pray for our Queen whose faith in, and worship of, Christ have helped sustain her in the dedicated service of others for the past seventy years.

Reading through the psalm you will see that it is almost entirely positive. It is also personal, expressing gratitude for all that God has done. Picture in your mind the author facing Jerusalem as he prays (verse 2) just as Muslims face Mecca and, when we worship together, face East where the High Altar stands.

The psalm falls into three sections: verses 1-3 praising God; 4-6 expressing the hope that all kings will do as he is doing; 7-8 ending with a personal expression of trust in the future because God has been with him in the past. We are not told what the writer experienced which made him so sure that God had helped him. Clearly something did though as we can see in verse three: “In the day that I called to you, you answered me you put new strength in my soul.” Some question God’s existence and goodness when something goes wrong. “If there is a God how can he allow a pandemic like Covid to happen?” Others, though, either cling on to their faith or even come to faith through suffering. Yet others will have their faith strengthened and it seems that this is so for the author of Psalm 138. You may find it helpful to read Isaiah 40.21-31 alongside the psalm. These verses from the prophet come at a time when many Jewish people were in exile in Babylon. However Isaiah tells them to hold on to their faith because God will set them free. Verse 31: “…those who look to the Lord will win new strength, they will grow wings like eagles; they will run and not be weary, they will march on and never grow faint.” This is not a false optimism. God is faithful. He can be trusted whatever happens.

Verse 6 is also worth pondering because reading with the gift of hindsight as we do, it is reminiscent of the Magnificat, the Song of Mary. The psalmist writes, “Though the Lord be high, he watches over the lowly; as for the proud, he regards them from afar.” Those familiar with 1662 Evensong will remember Mary’s words, “He hath put down the mighty from their seat: and hath exalted the humble and meek” which themselves have a parallel with Hannah’s prayer in the First Book of Samuel 2.1-11.

So we come to verse 8 which may be thought to end on a rather negative note as you can see in the picture here. It starts as the psalm began with a statement of faith, but appears to end with a sense of doubt creeping in: “do not abandon the works of your hands.” It is probably a question of translation into English from the original Hebrew and the Good News Bible may be more in keeping with the author’s intention: “You will do everything you have promised; Lord, your love is eternal. Complete the work that you have begun.” Or as one commentator puts the last sentence, “You will not forsake those you are creating.” If this is accurate, the picture of the potter is appropriate. For it implies that we invite God to continually mould us during our lives so that we can become what he wants us to become.

Lord our God, supreme over all things,
we ask you to look upon the humble and lowly,
to put new strength into our souls and to complete your purpose for us
in Christ Jesus our Lord.