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The Lord our Light: Praying Together with the Psalms 38

Written by Edmund Newey, posted on Monday, May 11, 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

Lamb in sunlightPsalm 114

  When Israel came out of Egypt *
 and the house of Jacob from among the strange people,
  Judah was his sanctuary *
 and Israel his dominion.
  The sea saw that, and fled *
 Jordan was driven back.
  The mountains skipped like rams *
 and the little hills like young sheep.
  What aileth thee, O thou sea, that thou fleddest *
 and thou Jordan, that thou wast driven back?
  Ye mountains, that ye skipped like rams *
 and ye little hills, like young sheep?
  Tremble, thou earth, at the presence of the Lord *
 at the presence of the God of Jacob;
  Who turned the hard rock into a standing water *
 and the flint-stone into a springing well.

Most psalms open with a verse that brings God and God’s people together: a call to praise, lament or prayer before the Lord. Psalm 114 is different – it rises in a crescendo, naming God only at the very end.

Beginning with the people of Israel, exiled among a people whose language and customs are alien to them, it recounts their flight to sanctuary. As yet, God remains unnamed, merely gestured to: the terms in which the crossing of the Red Sea and the Jordan are described echo the creation account in Genesis. Just as in creation, so here in deliverance, order is brought out of chaos in ways that exceed human powers of understanding.

Then, in awe the psalmist describes these miraculous events again, not as past happenings, but as a present encounter in which the Red Sea and the Jordan are addressed directly, the mountains and hills also. And only then is God named: first in fear and trembling; then as the one who is so close to his people that his presence is like a draught of fresh spring water, slaking our thirst in the desert.

Edmund Newey