Here is our King!

A Reflection on Psalm 93 by Canon Rob,
November 26th Sunday next before Advent

Unlike other Reflections, today’s is about the psalm set for Evensong, as we have already reflected upon the one set for the morning Eucharist. That was in March this year and the psalm was 95 with it’s opening words, “O come, let us sing to the Lord…” It was a call to worship and this evening’s psalm is just as joyful, celebrating the Kingship of God. As verse 1 puts it, “The Lord is king and has put on glorious apparel; the Lord has put on his glory and girded himself with strength.” Walter Brueggemann in his lovely book, “Praying the Psalms,” says of Psalm 93 and other psalms of celebration, “Those who pray this kind of Psalm will want not just to reflect on a general notion of well-being but to work with the concrete image of king, the gracious ruler who does manage well, provide for, protect the weak, and intervene for the helpless.” Verse 2 reminds us that it is God, “who has made the whole world so sure that it cannot be moved.” God, the Lord, is the Creator of all. However, He is not just the Creator, He is the One who subdues the chaos caused by floods. “Mightier than the thunder of many waters,….the Lord on high is mightier.” [See verses 4 and 5] As we reflect on this, we might want to take the words literally, but remember that the psalms are poetry and subjective. The author is telling a truth through metaphor and here his message is one of absolute reassurance, conveyed by the translation of verse 5 in the words on the picture here: “Mightier than the waves of the sea is His Love for you.” Even, and especially, in the midst of suffering, we can be sure that God loves us and is with us.

To put this in context, some commentators believe that Psalm 93 was written fairly soon after the Israelites returned from Exile in Babylon in 538 BC. If so, it marked a new beginning for God’s people. There are other psalms with a similar message. See, e.g., Psalms 47, 97 and 99. They are referred to as “royal psalms” or “enthronement psalms” and may have been used during the New Year Festivals in the autumn. They all recognise and celebrate the Kingship of God, who is Lord of all and who has existed from the beginning. So, in verse 3 we read, “Your throne has been established from of old; you are from everlasting.” God, the Lord and Creator of all, has chosen a people to be His own, to form a community under His Divine care and rule. But human kings were held in great honour too, especially King David. In the words of “The Oxford Bible Commentary,” The king was: “God’s anointed, as sacrosanct and the representative of the nation, the welfare of which depends upon his righteousness.” Today we celebrate Christ the King! He is the King of kings upon whom we can totally depend for he is Righteous.

This short psalm ends with words about God’s rule and laws. “Your testimonies are very sure; holiness adorns your house, O Lord, for ever.” [Verse 6] God is Holy and in the hymn book we use at St. Dunstan’s Church, one of the hymns we sing makes that very clear: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord, holy is the Lord God, almighty.” [285 in “Complete Anglican Hymns Old & New.”] In the Old Testament, including the Book of Psalms, that holiness implies separateness. God is ‘other’ who lives in heaven apart from we who live on the earth. The Holy God chooses when He intervenes in our lives, as He did, for example, through the leadership of Moses at the Exodus. Then, as they journeyed to the land which He promised them, God intervened again by giving the People His testimonies, or moral laws, known as the Ten Commandments. Being chosen by God, they are very privileged but, as always, that comes with great responsibility which is fulfilled if and when they obey His laws.

You have established your throne, O Lord, above the chaos of this world:
may your truth, which is from everlasting, be ours for ever and ever; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

[Prayer at the end of Psalm 93 in Common Worship, Daily Prayer]

Good Lord, deliver me!

A Reflection on Psalm 70 by Canon Rob,
November 12th, Remembrance Sunday

If you watch any of Sir David Attenborough’s programmes you will see how brutal life can be for those who are vulnerable. A big cat, for example, killing a young impala or zebra. A great white shark catching a seal pup. We watch such events and a natural reaction is often to think they are cruel until we are told that the big cat kills to feed her young and the shark will only kill enough to satisfy its hunger and we have some sympathy and understanding.

Psalm 70 is an urgent plea for help by someone who is vulnerable, whose life is in danger. The opening words, also used during Mattins and Evensong in the 1662 Prayer Book, show how terrifying the situation is: “O God, make speed to save me; O Lord, make haste to help me.” The author’s life is in danger from those who seek his life. [See verse 2] He is terrified and the only thing left is to turn to God for help. On this Remembrance Sunday, I recall that my father once told me how, during World War II, fellow soldiers who seldom thought of God, prayed to Him to spare their lives, just as the psalmist did. Also, one of my commentaries on this psalm refers to bullying and reading it I recall the many times I was bullied at school. Being physically small I was vulnerable: an easy prey to those boys who were much bigger than me. So, reflecting upon Psalm 70, I have a lot of sympathy with the author. You may find yourself doing the same. Wars and bullying are repugnant and their roots are similar: fear and the need to intimidate and control “the other.” As you reflect on today’s psalm can I encourage to pray for peace, for those who are vulnerable and bullied and for those who perpetrate acts of violence wherever they take place?

The author of Psalm 70 has faith in God and believes He will save him. After he has asked God to “shame and confuse” and “turn back” those who seek his life [See verses 2 and 3] he rejoices in God’s salvation and calls upon others to join him in doing so. “…let those who love your salvation say always, ‘Great is the Lord!’” [Verse 4] Here is confidence and trust in the One who has the power to free the writer from his fears. Again, as you reflect on this psalm, you can make it your own by praying that God will likewise free you from any fears you may cling to. When the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, mentioned above, was first published, the greatest fear of worshippers would probably have been the “fear of the Lord.” The word fear was used to mean “dread,” or “scared of, ” not “love for” or “faith in” as we might rightly understand it. However, God’s holiness reveals our sinfulness and in the words of St Paul, in his Letter to the Christians in Philippi, “You must work out your own salvation in fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you,….” [Philippians 2.12]

Having encouraged others to rejoice in the power of the Lord, the author returns to his own immediate needs and the urgency of his request is repeated: “As for me, I am poor and needy; come to me quickly, O God.” [See verse 5] In the final verse he recalls that God is his help and deliverer but his plea is urgent again: “O Lord, do not delay.” It is as if he is going round in circles, something which many experience when they are weighed down with anxiety. Being afraid sometimes is an experience most, if not all, of us will experience. It is a theme which occurs in several psalms, and if you look at Psalm 40, verses 14 to the end, you will find the words are almost identical to those of Psalm 70. However, for those with faith, there is something which overcomes fear: love! The love which God has for us, and the love we have for Him. As St John reminds us in the New Testament, “There is no fear in love, but love casts out fear.” [1 John 4.18.] As you reflect upon today’s psalm, may you be reassured that the God of Love is with you.

Lord, give us that love always. Amen.

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.

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.

A gift? Or was it stolen?

A Reflection on Psalm 105.37-end by Canon Rob
September 24th, The Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity

On 13th August, the psalm set for the Eucharist was 105, verses 1 – 10. The title of the Reflection was “Remembering what God has done.” Today we reflect upon verses 37 – 45 of the same psalm: verses which, to be honest, make me very uncomfortable, hence the title I have given to this Reflection. Psalm 105, especially from verse 23, is about the period during the Exodus when the Israelites, led by Moses, were eventually freed from years of cruelty and slavery in Egypt. [You can read about this in the Book of Exodus from Chapter 5.] The verses 23-36 of Psalm 105 include some of the account – especially about the plagues which God sent upon the Egyptians. There is no doubt that the Exodus was a huge, totally life-changing, event in the history of the Jewish people. However, as we reflect upon the verses set in today’s psalm, we do so against the backdrop of the continuing unrest in Israel/Palestine and the war in Ukraine following it’s invasion. Putting it bluntly, both are the result of ‘land-grabbing,’ something, like other nations in the past, we were guilty of. Another reason for my discomfort on reflecting upon Psalm 105!

Verse 44 is the one I find most difficult. “He [God] gave them [God’s chosen people] the lands of the nations and they took possession of the fruit of their toil.” Even given the terrible suffering that the people had gone through during their years as slaves in Egypt, together with God’s promise to free them and lead them to a new land which they could call their own, I struggle with what seems to be nothing short of a nationalism which leaves no place for justice. I’m reading a novel set during “The Troubles” in Ireland and reminded of the “land grabbing” that country suffered in the past too. [See also verse 11 where God says, “To you I will give the land of Canaan to be the portion of your inheritance.”]

Looking more closely at the psalm, the Oxford Bible Commentary, like others, points out that the psalm varies in some important respects from the account in the Book of Exodus [see above]. For example, the number and order of the plagues and – more importantly – any reference to the Israelites at Sinai. [See Exodus 19f.] There, we read, God calls Moses to climb the mountain and meet Him there so that Moses can receive the Ten Commandments. Has the author of today’s psalm omitted any reference to the covenant mediated by Moses because that includes punishment for disobeying God’s laws? The psalm, quite naturally, is a hymn of praise and thanksgiving for all that God has done for His people. But where is the humanity? Where are the moral and religious laws which we find in the Book of Exodus Chapter 22 verse 16f? Were God’s people really being cruel as were those who held them in Egypt and as today we see in Ukraine and Israel/Palestine and other parts of the world which are in turmoil? Are we, after all, no different from our forebears? As I reflect upon all this, I am reminded of some words spoken by a nun, Mother Francis Dominica, who visited Lincoln Theological college whilst I was there: “When I pray for peace in the world, I need to remember that peace begins with me!”

Psalm 105 is, then, a hymn of praise. But it also conveys a sense of relief on the part of the Egyptians. In verse 37 we read, “Egypt was glad at their departing, for dread had fallen upon them.” After years of anguish and pain felt by those they kept as slaves, it is now the turn of the Egyptians to suffer. As the plagues became more severe, above all ending in the deaths of their first born children [see verse 36], life became unbearable for them and in Exodus 13 verse 17 we read it was at this point that “…the king of Egypt let the people go…” God’s people were free at last, but at what cost?

Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me;
let there be peace on earth, the peace that was meant to be.
(Jill Jackson,1955)

A Great Celebration? Not entirely!

A Reflection on Psalm 149 by Canon Rob
September 10th, The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity

As the Book of Psalms, the hymn book of the Jewish people, comes to an end, the theme is giving praise to God, celebrating His goodness. It is as if those who compiled the book wanted to end on a high! As I have said before, the great thing about the psalms is that they express every emotion common to all human beings. In them we find tragedy and sorrow, wonder and joy and the whole range between. Today’s psalm is full of joy but, unlike Psalm 150 say, it has a “twist in its tail.” It begins with rejoicing but the tone changes completely in the last four verses. We are taken from music and dancing to vengeance! God is praised because He has won for His people a great victory. Yet the war is not over. Verses 5 and 6 sum up the situation very well. “Let the faithful be joyful in glory; let them rejoice in their ranks. With the praises of God in their mouths and a two-edged sword in their ranks.” (Note the change in the font denoting a change in tone.) The two-edged sword is to be used “to execute vengeance on the nations.” [Verse 6b] From reading about the two World Wars, it is clear that there were victories and set backs as, perhaps, there are in all wars – including that in Ukraine. The same seems to be true here.

As with all the psalms, we can’t be sure what battle the author has in mind when he wrote Psalm 149. However, as you reflect upon the words, note in verse 4 that “the Lord has pleasure in his people.” Then in verse 7 punishment is to be “on the peoples.” Here we see the distinction between the people of God, with whom God is pleased this time, and the “peoples” who are clearly the enemy. The “peoples” are those who do not acknowledge the One, True God and who will face judgement. [See verse 9]. The prophet Isaiah spoke of this. In Chapter 61, we read words which Jesus quoted to describe his mission and ministry: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me…” [See Luke 4.18-19] However, he ends his speech the line before Isaiah describes “…a day of vengeance of our God.” [Isaiah 61.2a in the New English Bible.]

The writer of the psalm believes that God will punish the enemy, the peoples, now, but several commentators suggest that the judgement upon them which he writes about will take place sometime in the future. Although we often come across the contrast between God’s “faithful servants” [see verses 9] and “the nations” [see verse 7], something which is unusual in the psalms is the clear link between the present and future which we find in Psalm 149. Could the psalmist have in mind the coming of the Messiah, the One from God, who will destroy all enemies and free His people for all time? As always we need to be careful that we don’t read into the scriptures what isn’t there. However, it is possible and Christians reflecting on this psalm do so believing that Jesus Christ is that Messiah who will, as we say in the Creed, “come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.”

Judgement isn’t confined to the Old Testament although I recall conversations about how the New Testament focuses more on God’s Love rather than His anger which we find very much in the Old. Several of Jesus’ parables allude to God’s judgement. [See that of the Sheep and Goats in Matthew 25.31-46.] St Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians [6.1-3] suggests that God’s people will be involved in judging the world: something which the author of today’s psalm may have had in mind when he wrote verse 5. “Let the faithful be joyful in glory; let them rejoice in their ranks,” As we reflect on these words of pride, we do well to recall with humility our membership of God’s family.

May the mind of Christ my Saviour live in me from day to day,
by his love and pow’r controlling all I do and say.
[Hymn 447, Complete Anglican Hymns Old and New]

Phew! The danger is over.

A Reflection on Psalm 124 by Canon Rob,
August 27th, The Twelfth Sunday after Trinity

One of the things which many people find difficult is not being in control. This has always been part of human nature, but today it may be even more common, at a personal, national and international level. Take the current debate about AI, for example. Clearly there are benefits to AI not least for the NHS. However, there is increasing anxiety about it taking on a ‘life of its own,’ getting ‘out of control.’ A message which runs through the Bible is that God is in control. God calls human beings, like Moses, to help bring about His will. However, it is God who intervened to free His people from Egypt and lead them to the Promised Land. God intervened at the Incarnation: the birth of Jesus. As you reflect on Psalm 124 you may be able to recall a time, or times, when God intervened in your life.

Today’s psalm is the result of God intervening at a time when those He loved were in danger. Although we don’t know what that was, reading verses 2 – 4, we can assume the psalmist is writing about an attack of some sort. It was terrifying. “If the Lord had not been on our side, when enemies rose up against us; Then would they have swallowed us alive when their anger burned against us; Then would the waters have overwhelmed us and the torrent gone over our soul…” The author is surely writing figuratively but, whilst a very different example, we can perhaps sense a little how terrible the experience was as we see the devastation caused by the wildfires in the island of Maui, Hawaii, where the town of Lahaina has been completely destroyed. What is being described by the writer of the psalm and what we see on our television screens, is catastrophic and out of our control. Indeed verse 4 is almost primeval, referring to the waters which could have overwhelmed the people. It is reminiscent of Genesis Chapter 1, verse 2 at the beginning of the creation story: “the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” As you reflect on today’s psalm, you might also recall the story of Noah and the Ark in Genesis Chapters 7 – 9, where “the waters of the flood came on earth.” [Genesis 7.10] We might think the psalmist was exaggerating, but it was not uncommon for flash floods to occur and, as today, the idea of being covered in water with no chance of escape, was terrifying. Remember those who lost their lives in the submersible, Titan, in June?

No wonder then, that Psalm 124 is fulsome in its praise of God. Only seven verses long, four of them identify God as the source of help. The Lord was on their side [verses 1 and 2], God is praised because He has “not given (the people) over to be a prey” for the enemy [verse 5] and in verse 6 the author describes freedom like that of a bird who is delivered because “the snare is broken.” A message which the author wants his readers to understand is that God, the Creator of all, has the power and desire to constantly care for His people. We might think we are in control of our lives, the lives of others and, with the increasing concern over climate change, the future of this planet. However, the psalm tells us otherwise. Those who have faith know that God is in the past, present and future and we are urged to entrust our lives and souls into His hands. The author of the First Letter of Peter in the New Testament puts it this way: “…even those who suffer, if it be according to God’s will, should commit their souls to him – by doing good; their Maker will not fail them.” [1 Peter 4.19] The first part of this quotation may make us feel uncomfortable today, but remember that many in the Early Church suffered and died for their faith. It gave them the courage to go on. The truth to hold on to is that no matter what we go through, or how much we feel we are not in control, God is with us today, as He was in the past and as He always will be in the future.

“Our help is in the name of the Lord, who has made heaven and earth.” [Psalm 124 verse 7]
Thanks be to God!

Remembering what God has done

A Reflection on Psalm 105.1-10 by Canon Rob,
August 13th, The Tenth Sunday after Trinity.

Reflection illustrationOne of the readings set for this morning’s Eucharist is from the Book of Genesis: Chapter 37, verses 1-4 and 12-28. It tells the story of Joseph’s jealous brothers who plot to get rid of him. They sell him for twenty pieces of silver to a group of Ishmaelites who take him to Egypt. Far from being a disaster, this is the beginning of a new and privileged life for Joseph who, in Genesis 45, tells his brothers all that has happened to him was down to God. This is just one example of how God has worked in the past as He continues to do today.

Psalm 105 is a celebration of all that God has done through Abraham and his descendants up to the time when His Chosen People entered the Promised Land. Throughout its 45 verses it recalls the wonderful deeds of God, and it begins with an encouragement to “give thanks to the Lord and call upon his name; make known his deeds among the people.” Only verses 1 – 10 are set to be used today, but if you take the time to read all the verses you will be able to recall other stories from the Old Testament: about Isaac; Jacob; Joseph; Moses and Aaron. When we are going through a time of crisis, personally, nationally or internationally it is often difficult to see where God is. However, as we look back on past experiences, we can sometimes see the ‘hand of God’ in whatever that experience was. So it is with today’s psalm and as you reflect upon the verses set for today, you may like to reflect on something which you have gone through and which, only with hindsight, you recognise that God was with you as He was with the early Israelites.

Reflection illustrationCommentators point out that the first fifteen verses of Psalm 105 are found in the First Book of Chronicles, Chapter 16, verses 8 – 22. [You can find this book in the Old Testament immediately after the Second Book of Kings.] It was a hymn of praise sung during the reign of King David when the Ark of the Covenant was carried into the Temple and formed part of the liturgy used that day, just as the psalms can form part of our liturgy today – as indeed they do at Evensong. And perhaps a key verse for us to especially reflect upon is verse 3 – shown above. In the Common Worship version, the words are, “Rejoice in the praise of his [God’s] holy name; let the hearts of them rejoice who seek the Lord.” However, the translation in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible is probably more accurate and calls us to Glory in God’s holy name! Glory denotes the special presence of God, which we are reminded of at the Eucharist, when the bread and wine are blessed [consecrated] and become the Body and Blood of Christ. Christ is truly present and through receiving Holy Communion, we are strengthened and sustained by his presence. The Ark of the Covenant symbolised the presence of God for the People of Israel.

Reflection illustrationThe remaining verses set for today are about the covenant God made with Abraham. [See especially verses 8 – 10.] However, this promise is not just made to Abraham but, as verse 8 says, “the promise that he made for a thousand generations.” In other words, for all time, and it was this covenant which was fulfilled in and through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. The covenant made with Abraham, in verse 11, was about the Promised Land and as we see in verses 9 and 10, it was confirmed with Isaac and Jacob as well. Whilst we can rightly use the verses of today’s psalm as a hymn of praise, we do so against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine and the violence in Israel/Palestine. This hymn of praise then can also become for us a reminder to pray for peace in the whole world which God created for all.

God of our fathers, you brought your people out of slavery and led them to freedom in the promised land;
feed us on our journey with the bread of heaven that we may hunger and thirst for righteousness
until your kingdom comes; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
[Prayer at the end of Psalm 105 in Common Worship Daily Prayer]

A Prayer for Guidance

A Reflection on Psalm 86.11-end by Canon Rob,
23rd July, The Seventh Sunday after Trinity

A month ago we had the opportunity to reflect on verses 1-10 of Psalm 86, verses which expressed the author’s anxiety, if not depression. Today, our focus is on the later verses of that psalm which are set for this morning’s Eucharist. If you read it in its entirety, you will find that it is almost like reading two very different psalms. Last month the heading was “A cry in the darkness.” Today, it is as if the psalmist has moved on. Having given thanks for all that God has done for him, he asks that God will guide him to do what is right. “Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth: knit my heart to you, that I may fear your name.” [Verse 11.] Here we see an act of re-dedication. The cloud of depression is lifting and he knows that God is with him. Indeed he can now thank God for all that God has done for him. In verse 11, as we have seen, he wants to “fear” the Lord. That doesn’t mean to be scared of God. On the contrary in verse 12 we have a clearer idea of what he means: “I will thank you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and glorify your name for evermore.” To fear God is to love God, to trust Him, and that, in turn, leads the believer to glorify – or praise, even thank – God. In verse 13 we find the reason. “For great is your steadfast love towards me, for you have delivered my soul from the depths of the grave.” Before we move on though, reflect upon the words “your truth” again in verse 11. Truth is critical throughout the Bible and when applied to God, it means that God can be relied on completely. He is “a fortress” and “a rock,” analogies which we have come across in several psalms before.

That is important to the author of today’s psalm. He finds himself under attack, presumably from evil men. [See verse 14.] He describes them as a “ruthless horde” who “seek after [his] life.” We have seen this kind of language in several psalms too. This “ruthless horde” are described as “the proud” who “rise up against” him. Whoever they are, and they are not identified, they are arrogant and cause terror to those who are faithful to the One, True, God: the Lord who made a covenant with those who would become His People: especially with Noah in Genesis 9; with Abram (Abraham) in Genesis 17; and with Moses in Exodus – see especially Chapter 24. This covenant, renewed as it was, was a huge privilege for God’s People, but it also laid upon them a huge responsibility, to obey God’s Commandments and to be faithful to Him and Him alone. No wonder then that the People of Israel, God’s own people, had many enemies who did not “set you (God) before their eyes.” [Verse 14.]

The author of Psalm 86 knows God though. Having come through his period of depression, in the earlier verses, he is now certain that God is with him and can be trusted to stand up against the enemy. Those, like him, who trust in the Lord experience Him as, “gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and full of kindness and truth.” [Verse 15.] These words are reminiscent of those we read in the Book Exodus, Chapter 34, verse 6, when Moses is given the Ten Commandments for the second time. “The Lord then passed in front of him [Moses] and called out, ‘I, the Lord, am a God who is full of compassion and pity, who is not easily angered and who shows great love and faithfulness’.” In the last two verses of today’s psalm, the author prays for strength to keep following God and also that others may see who God really is. “Show me a token of your favour, that those who hate me may see it and be ashamed; because you, O Lord, have helped and comforted me.

God of mercy, who in your great love drew your Son from the depths of the Pit,
bring your people from death to life, that we may rejoice in your compassion
and praise you now and for ever.

[Prayer at the end of Psalm 86 in Common Worship, Daily Prayer]

A King Prepares for his wedding!

A Reflection on Psalm 45.10-end by Canon Rob,
9th July, The Fifth Sunday after Trinity

What a contrast today’s psalm is to the one we reflected upon two week’s ago: [Psalm 86.1-10.] Then the author was in a really bad place, suffering with depression and anxiety. Today though, there is much praise for the King who is soon to be married to a most beautiful woman. In one of my commentaries, the psalm we are reflecting upon is called “An anthem for a royal wedding” and although the verses set for today are 10 – 17, it is clear from verse 1 that the author – who may have been the court poet – is eager to write his hymn. The news is wonderful and he can’t wait to share it! “My heart is astir with gracious words; as I make my song for the king, my tongue is the pen of a ready writer.” It isn’t every day that the King will marry and his bride become a new Queen!

We know from verse 12 that the bride comes from Tyre, a city in Phoenicia, north of Palestine, but she is expected to leave that behind. “Hear, O daughter, consider and incline your ear; forget your own people and your father’s house.” [Verse 10.] We can presume from verse 13 that she is a princess for she is referred to as “The King’s daughter.” Soon though, she will become a wife and Queen and any children she will give birth to will be princes and princesses in her new country and home. Probably it is an arranged marriage and we don’t know how this princess really feels about leaving her father, family and all that is familiar to her. Hopefully though she and her husband will find love, if they do not already share it. What is clear, again from verse 12, is that the rich and famous from Tyre will be attending the wedding and bringing gifts, or tributes, seeking her favour.

Reading through my commentaries on the psalms, some suggest that the wedding is an allegory about the love of God for His Chosen People. The same is suggested about “The Song of Songs,” an erotic love poem, also in the Old Testament. The Church has often been called the Bride of Christ and, again, some reading the psalm may want to draw a similar conclusion. However, as always, we should beware of reading into a Biblical text something which isn’t there or even intended. Can we not simply take Psalm 45 for what it is: a celebration of the coming wedding of a King? If so, we can reflect on the significance of this great occasion.

Whether or not the marriage was arranged, as I have suggested, it would be important in ensuring the endurance of the King’s dynasty. Male heirs were critical as they were in our own country until comparatively recently. It wasn’t just a case of continuing the family name! Any sons born of this royal marriage will be given a position of responsibility and carry out duties on behalf of the King, just as we see with Prince William representing King Charles. “Instead of your fathers you shall have sons, whom you shall make princes over the land.” [verse 16.] All this is reinforced in the last verse: “I will make your name to be remembered through all generations; therefore shall the peoples praise you for ever and ever.” Once again, as you reflect upon the verses of this psalm, you may find it helpful to read the 2nd Book of Samuel, Chapter 7 which is part of the covenant made between God and King David. There we read, in verse 16,the Lord speaking to King David about the future of his kingdom: “Your family shall be established and your kingdom shall stand for all time in my sight, and your throne shall be established for ever.” Perhaps the King referred to in today’s psalm was David himself! Whoever it was, we can give thanks for the love which God gives to all those in close relationships and hope that the King, in the psalm, and his new Bride and Queen found that same love with each other, as have King Charles and Queen Camilla.

Keep me steadfast and honourable, O God,
in my relationships with those I love. Amen. [Marshall D. Johnson]

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