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The Lord our Light: Praying together with the Psalms 1

Written by Canon Edmund Newey, posted on Sunday, March 22, 2020

Canon Edmund NeweyIn these extraordinary times, as our nation and our world face the unprecedented challenge of the Coronavirus epidemic, our first task is naturally to support and enable the efforts of frontline staff tackling the disease and supporting those who have fallen ill. As we engage in every way we can with their work, we as Christians turn for guidance to God, in whom we have our origin and our end.

Here at Christ Church the book of Psalms – the prayer book of the Bible, as it is sometimes called – sustains our daily worship, now as always. Public worship is no longer an option, but the cathedral clergy here are maintaining the daily round of prayer and warmly encourage you to share in the spiritual communion that prayer makes possible across all boundaries of time and space.

At the core of this work of prayer the psalms voice the cry of our hearts to God. With this in mind the ministry team here is sharing one psalm each day with an accompanying reflection. Recalling the University of Oxford’s motto, Dominus illuminatio mea – ‘The Lord is my light’ – we pray that, together, we may know God’s strength, encouragement and blessing in this time of need.

‘The Lord is my light, and my salvation; whom then shall I fear: the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?’ (Psalm 27:1)

Canon Edmund Newey, Sub Dean

Open BiblePsalm 27

 The Lord is my light, and my salvation; whom then shall I fear *
 the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?
  When the wicked, even mine enemies, and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh *
 they stumbled and fell.
  Though an host of men were laid against me, yet shall not my heart be afraid *
 and though there rose up war against me, yet will I put my trust in him.
  One thing have I desired of the Lord, which I will require *
 even that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the fair beauty of the Lord, and to visit his temple.
  For in the time of trouble he shall hide me in his tabernacle *
 yea, in the secret place of his dwelling shall he hide me, and set me up upon a rock of stone.
  And now shall he lift up mine head *
 above mine enemies round about me.
  Therefore will I offer in his dwelling an oblation with great gladness *
 I will sing, and speak praises unto the Lord.
  Hearken unto my voice, O Lord, when I cry unto thee *
 have mercy upon me, and hear me.
  My heart hath talked of thee, Seek ye my face *
 Thy face, Lord, will I seek.
  O hide not thou thy face from me *
 nor cast thy servant away in displeasure.
  Thou hast been my succour *
 leave me not, neither forsake me, O God of my salvation.
  When my father and my mother forsake me *
 the Lord taketh me up.
  Teach me thy way, O Lord *
 and lead me in the right way, because of mine enemies.
  Deliver me not over into the will of mine adversaries *
 for there are false witnesses risen up against me, and such as speak wrong.
  I should utterly have fainted *
 but that I believe verily to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
  O tarry thou the Lord’s leisure *
 be strong, and he shall comfort thine heart; and put thou thy trust in the Lord.

For someone on the inside of the public worship exclusion zone, the third verse of Psalm 27 is especially poignant. As a residentiary canon I dwell pretty much literally ‘in the house of the Lord’, but those with whom I normally share worship are now shut out.

Yet as the psalm unfolds we soon realise that ‘the house of the Lord’ is a metaphor: this is ‘a temple not one made with hands’ (Acts 7:48). ‘Hidden in his tabernacle’, we are all held in safety, embraced by the one whose nature is always to have mercy. Wherever we find ourselves – in self-isolation, in hospital, at work, on the streets – what better reassurance could be given in such a time as this?

As so often in the psalms, praise and lament are held together. The psalmist’s faith encompasses courage and fear in equal measure; so does ours, as we confront the wholly novel uncertainties of a worldwide pandemic. The challenge is utterly real, but so is the loving help that radiates from God: whose face we are called to seek; who beholds us in all the granular detail of our individuality; who ‘tarries’ with us, and invites us to ‘tarry’ with Him – and with one another.

Edmund Newey