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The Lord our Light: Praying Together with the Psalms 40

Written by Philippa White, posted on Thursday, May 14, 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

Mountain topPsalm 2 

Why do the heathen so furiously rage together : and why do the people imagine a vain thing?

The kings of the earth stand up, and the rulers take counsel together : against the Lord, and against his Anointed.

Let us break their bonds asunder : and cast away their cords from us.

He that dwelleth in heaven shall laugh them to scorn : the Lord shall have them in derision.

Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath : and vex them in his sore displeasure.

Yet have I set my King : upon my holy hill of Sion.

I will preach the law, whereof the Lord hath said unto me : Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.

Desire of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance: and the utmost parts of the earth for thy possession.

Thou shalt bruise them with a rod of iron : and break them in pieces like a potter's vessel. 

Be wise now therefore, O ye kings : be learned, ye that are judges of the earth.

Serve the Lord in fear : and rejoice unto him with reverence.

Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and so ye perish from the right way : if his wrath be kindled, (yea, but a little,) blessed are all they that put their trust in him. 

Earlier in the week, writing about Psalm 1, I suggested that it was placed at the beginning of the Book of Psalms as a summary of some of the key themes of the book. Psalm 2, which follows it, does the same: this time, drawing out the themes of kingship and the sovereignty of God which are threaded through the Psalms. It reminds us, as we read, hear or pray the psalm, that God is the real sovereign, compared to whom the world’s leaders and their plans are insignificant. 

Many Old Testament scholars think that this psalm was written to be used at the coronations of kings of Israel. Even at the moment of coronation, when they  symbolically received almost total power over the kingdom and its people, those kings were reminded: all this belongs to God. You are where you are because God has called you there; you have enormous power because God has given it to you; all you are comes from God, and all you do needs to honour God. 

I wonder what that did to the way those kings ruled? (If you read the Old Testament books of Kings and Chronicles, you might think: not a lot!) 

I wonder what it might change for the world’s leaders at the moment, if they truly believed the message of this psalm? 

And I wonder what it might change in us, if we live as people who believe that real power belongs to a God who is righteous and loving?