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The Lord our Light: Praying Together with the Psalms 18

Written by Edmund Newey, posted on Thursday, April 16, 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

Psalm 20

The Lord hear thee in the day of trouble *

 the Name of the God of Jacob defend thee ;
  Send thee help from the sanctuary *
 and strengthen thee out of Sion;
  Remember all thy offerings *
 and accept thy burnt-sacrifice;
  Grant thee thy heart’s desire *
 and fulfil all thy mind.
  We will rejoice in thy salvation, and triumph in the Name of the Lord our God *
 the Lord perform all thy petitions.
  Now know I, that the Lord helpeth his Anointed, and will hear him from his holy heaven *
 even with the wholesome strength of his right hand.
  Some put their trust in chariots, and some in horses *
 but we will remember the Name of the Lord our God.
  They are brought down, and fallen *
 but we are risen, and stand upright.
  Save, Lord, and hear us, O King of heaven *
 when we call upon thee.

rider against skyAs a former rector of the racing town of Newmarket, this is a psalm in which I used to take particular delight: ‘Some put their trust in chariots and some in horses, but we will call only on the name of the Lord our God’. No doubt the psalmist was thinking of warhorses, whose modern equivalents would be Kalashnikovs and cruise missiles, but the verse applies equally to any of the idols and obsessions we let into our lives as substitutes for God. 

‘Whatever it is that weighs most heavily in the balance of your affections, that for you is God’, said Origen. On such a definition all of us are idolators, if not of horses, then of status or money or even, sometimes, of the institutional Church. We place our trust in things, rather than in the God who gives them. 

In this royal psalm the poet addresses the king, perhaps at the beginning of his reign. As the scriptures show us, kings are peculiarly at risk of putting their trust in things. 

Yet the psalmist also firmly believes that the king is God’s anointed. For Christians, the kingship fitfully revealed in the royal house of Israel and Judah is fulfilled in Christ, who makes fully known ‘the name of the Lord our God’. 

As we sing this psalm, we may pray for the powerful of the earth that, with them, we may put aside our idolatry and worship the one who alone bears unblemished the image and likeness of God.

Edmund Newey