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The Lord our Light: Praying together with the Psalms 3

Written by Graham Ward, posted on Tuesday, March 24, 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)

Canon Edmund Newey, Sub Dean

Psalm 90

Lord, thou hast been our refuge * 
from one generation to another. 
Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever the earth and the world were made * 
 thou art God from everlasting, and world without end. 
Thou turnest man to destruction * 
 again thou sayest, Come again, ye children of men. 
For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday * 
 seeing that is past as a watch in the night. 
As soon as thou scatterest them they are even as a sleep * 
 and fade away suddenly like the grass. 
In the morning it is green, and groweth up * 
 but in the evening it is cut down, dried up, and withered. 
For we consume away in thy displeasure * 
 and are afraid at thy wrathful indignation. 
Thou hast set our misdeeds before thee * 
 and our secret sins in the light of thy countenance. 
For when thou art angry all our days are gone * 
 we bring our years to an end, as it were a tale that is told. 
The days of our age are threescore years and ten; and though men be so strong that they come to fourscore years * 
 yet is their strength then but labour and sorrow; so soon passeth it away, and we are gone. 
 But who regardeth the power of thy wrath * 
 for even thereafter as a man feareth, so is thy displeasure. 
So teach us to number our days * 
 that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. 
Turn thee again, O Lord, at the last * 
 and be gracious unto thy servants. 
 O satisfy us with thy mercy, and that soon * 
 so shall we rejoice and be glad all the days of our life. 
 Comfort us again now after the time that thou hast plagued us * 
 and for the years wherein we have suffered adversity. 
 Shew thy servants thy work * 
 and their children thy glory. 
 And the glorious Majesty of the Lord our God be upon us * 
 prosper thou the work of our hands upon us, O prosper thou our handy-work. 

 


There’s no getting away from the insistence in this psalm upon our mortality. For all our bluff and bluster, ambition and forward-planning; for all our instinctive calculation of risks and strategies to avoid or minimize them – we are going to die. ‘The days of our years are three score years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow (v.10).’ 

It’s not just that death awaits all of us, life itself is understood as not always or even often a walk in a sunlit meadow, the skylarks ascending. If there undoubtedly are experiences of joy at being alive, there will inevitably come also ‘years wherein we have seen evil’ (v.15).

This is the rhythm of getting-by, the rhythm of all our biographies, but the psalm speaks also of two overriding truths. The first is simply that we dwell in God who is ‘from everlasting to everlasting’ (v.2) in ‘all generations’ (v.1).

The second is that if we come to terms with our mortality – the flourishing as we grow, the cutting down that is written into all things created – then our wisdom deepens (v.12). What this means is that we learn to dwell more deeply in God as we increasingly trust in the love and grace that holds us up wherever we stand. We will be established (v.17), and the ‘beauty of the Lord our God’ will be upon us. So our living is and will not be meaningless. 

Graham Ward