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The Lord our Light: Praying Together with the Psalms 14

Written by John Paton, posted on Monday, April 6, 2020

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)

Edmund Newey, Sub Dean

River bankPsalm 137

BY THE waters of Babylon we sat down and wept: when we remembered thee, O Sion.

As for our harps, we hanged them up: upon the trees that are therein.

For they that led us away captive required of us then a song, and melody in our heaviness: Sing us one of the songs of Sion.

How shall we sing the Lord's song: in a strange land?

If I forget thee, O Jerusalem: let my right hand forget her cunning.

If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth: yea, if I prefer not Jerusalem in my mirth.

Remember the children of Edom, O Lord, in the day of Jerusalem: how they said, Down with it, down with it, even to the ground.

O daughter of Babylon , wasted with misery: yea, happy shall he be that rewardeth thee, as thou hast served us.

Blessed shall he be that taketh thy children: and throweth them against the stones.

A poignant image of the people of Israel in their captivity – impervious to the beauty of their new surroundings, unable to raise their voices to praise their God, whether through despondency or because they could not conceive that God might still be with them in exile. Jerusalem was God’s earthly dwelling place, and for his scattered children the ruins of the Temple and the city were grounds equally for hope and despair.

The last few verses of the psalm are rarely used in Christian worship. The merciless cry for vengeance upon the descendants of Esau, the patriarch tricked of his inheritance by his brother Jacob; the memory, no doubt, of the Edomites’ part in the looting of Zion – how can we reconcile this with our Lord’s call to love our enemies?

We all sometimes need to acknowledge our anger and frustration. Pour out your heart, and the figure on the cross will patiently, gently, wait for you to return to your senses. Troubles that burden us must be voiced before they can be healed, and there’s nothing we are forbidden to say to our Maker, who in his good time will restore both our frame of mind and our well-being.

John Paton