Thank the Lord

A Reflection on Psalm 135.1-14 by Canon Rob
25th February 2024, The Second Sunday of Lent

Reflection 25th February 1Like the previous Reflection, this week’s is based on the psalm set for Evensong as we considered that for today’s Eucharist last year. What a contrast to Psalm 2, which we thought about a fortnight ago and which was a response to the threat of an invasion. Today the author of the psalm is full of praise for what the Lord has done.

Professor Dermot Cox, in his book “The Psalms in the Life of God’s People” (which I mentioned in the last Reflection) says, “The Old Testament is the expression in words of what God meant to Israel – and so the whole of her life as a people was meant to be a fitting response. Thus praise is the most characteristic mode of existence for the community, and the most human of attitudes.” You may like to ponder these words and whether or not you believe praise, or thanksgiving, is still the “most human of attitudes.” The Eucharist is commonly seen as the central act of Christian worship and at its heart is praise and thanksgiving but even a quick look through the Book of Psalms will show that a great many express fear, questioning of God’s goodness (but never His existence!), condemnation and a cry for help along with other attitudes. Yet it is true that the more we praise God, the more thankful we are, the more content we become.

Only the first fourteen verses of Psalm 135 are used this evening but the entire psalm is a call to praise God. The author wants his readers to see how the Lord is at work in the natural world and throughout the history of Israel. As with all the psalms, today’s is for everyone to recite, but it is likely that the first two verses are addressed especially to priests and Levites: the “servants of the Lord” [verse 1] and those who “stand in the house of the Lord..” [verse 2]. Then in verse 3 the musicians are called upon the join in the hymn of praise because “the Lord has chosen…..Israel for his own possession.” [Verse 4].

Reflection 25th February 1Verse 5 is worthy of some time for reflection. The author knows “that the Lord is great,..” This is the wording in Common Worship. However, note the phrase in the picture here is “I know that our Lord is great,..” Only a subtle difference, but I think it probably more accurately reflects what the psalmist had in mind for many are called to share this act of praise. Note also that his Lord is greater than all gods! At the time of writing, the author will know that different people may have several gods but the people of Israel came to believe in just one God: the Lord, or Yahweh. This is the God who “does whatever he pleases”. He can do so because He is the Creator of heaven and earth and all the seas. [verse 6]. He is believed to be in control of the weather [verse 7] – although with climate change in mind we would question that belief! Then, as we continue through the psalm, we read that the Lord freed His people from slavery, [verses 8 and 9] helped them defeat their enemies [verses 10 and 11] and led them to the Promised Land, “a heritage for Israel his people”. [verse 12]. With all this in mind, is it any wonder that the writer of Psalm 135 calls the people to shout “Alleluia!” and to “praise the name of the Lord!”?

Reflection 25th February 2Yet as has happened before, when a psalm refers to the God-given land, I am conscious of the current terrible suffering in the Holy Land and really struggle to comprehend it. There seem to be no easy answers, but can there be any justification for war in today’s world? Do those in power in Israel read this psalm and find the answer there? Verses 13 and 14 could, perhaps, give some justification, especially as the Common Worship translation for “the Lord will give justice” in the picture here, is “the Lord will vindicate his people.” I am in no position to judge, and I may be treading on dangerous ground, but I believe that “the earth is the Lord’s” and not ours to call our own. Instead, we are all called to treasure, care for and enjoy all that He has made.

We praise you Lord, for you are the Creator of all and you love all that you have made:
fill us with the gifts of humility and gratitude which will lead us to live together in peace. Amen.

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