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The Lord our Light: Praying Together with the Psalms 22

Written by Edmund Newey, posted on Tuesday, April 21, 2020

In 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

Spring trees in blossomPsalm 111

1 I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, *

in the company of the faithful and in the congregation.

2 The works of the Lord are great, *

sought out by all who delight in them.

3 His work is full of majesty and honour *

and his righteousness endures for ever.

4 He appointed a memorial for his marvellous deeds; *

the Lord is gracious and full of compassion.

5 He gave food to those who feared him; *

he is ever mindful of his covenant.

6 He showed his people the power of his works *

in giving them the heritage of the nations.

7 The works of his hands are truth and justice; *

all his commandments are sure.

8 They stand fast for ever and ever; *

they are done in truth and equity.

9 He sent redemption to his people;

he commanded his covenant for ever; *

holy and awesome is his name.

10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;

a good understanding have those who live by it; *

his praise endures for ever.

To the Jewish people, God’s name is unutterable. Only the consonants – YHWH – may be written and when that name is referred to in speech, it is always by a circumlocution: ‘the Lord’. Christians disregard this reticence too readily, ‘growing familiar with mysteries’, as Cardinal Newman put it.

This psalm is an acrostic: in the Hebrew each half-verse begins with the next letter of the alphabet. From aleph to taw the ‘marvellous deeds’ of the Lord are spelled out. First, God’s works are praised in general terms, then they are enumerated specifically: the miraculous feeding in the wilderness, the establishment of the covenant and the commandments, the granting of victory and the settlement of the Holy Land. Yet, for all that these deeds reveal of the Lord’s ‘truth and equity’, still God’s name remains ‘holy and awesome’, beyond comprehension.

What was true of the old covenant is also true of the new. In the face of Jesus Christ we have ‘the light of the knowledge of the glory of God’ (2 Corinthians 4: 6), but the mysteries of our faith deepen even as they are made known. Filled with ‘fear of the Lord’ we need not cower like Adam and Eve ‘in the garden at the time of the evening breeze’ (Genesis 3:8). Instead we may respond with awe and praise, as Moses did before the burning bush, knowing that the place where we stand is holy ground (Exodus 3:5).

Edmund Newey