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The Lord our Light: Praying Together with the Psalms 37

Written by Edmund Newey, posted on Saturday, May 9, 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

Open HandsPsalm 134

Behold now, praise the Lord * all ye servants of the Lord;

Ye that by night stand in the house of the Lord * even in the courts of the house of our God.

Lift up your hands in the sanctuary * and praise the Lord.

The Lord that made heaven and earth * give thee blessing out of Sion.

This psalm comes a close second to 117 in the contest for shortest in the Psalter. Like its cousin, it is a hymn of praise, but whereas Psalm 117’s context is the day, Psalm 134 is an evening psalm, often prayed in the office of Compline before bed.

It consists of two parts, the distinction between them being the switch from plural to singular in the final verse. In the opening three verses, the worship leader addresses the congregation, inviting them to praise God at the close of day. In the last verse the congregation responds with a blessing upon the minister.

This pattern of call and response invites us to see that blessing is a two-way process: from God to us, obviously, but also from us to God: ‘Come, bless the Lord, you servants of the Lord’, says the modern translation, faithful to the Hebrew vocabulary. Odd, we may think, that creation could bless its Creator, but this is the dignity conferred on us in worship which puts us back in right relationship with God and one another: called not just to receive but to bestow blessing.

Edmund Newey