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The Lord our Light: Praying Together with the Psalms 42

Written by Philippa White, posted on Monday, May 18, 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

Psalm 74 

Reredos Christ Church Cathedral high altarO God, wherefore art thou absent from us so long : why is thy wrath so hot against the sheep of thy pasture?

O think upon thy congregation : whom thou hast purchased and redeemed of old.

Think upon the tribe of thine inheritance : and mount Sion, wherein thou hast dwelt.

Lift up thy feet, that thou mayest utterly destroy every enemy : which hath done evil in thy sanctuary.

Thine adversaries roar in the midst of thy congregations : and set up their banners for tokens.

He that hewed timber afore out of the thick trees : was known to bring it to an excellent work.

But now they break down all the carved work thereof : with axes and hammers.

They have set fire upon thy holy places : and have defiled the dwelling-place of thy Name, even unto the ground.

Yea, they said in their hearts, Let us make havock of them altogether : thus have they burnt up all the houses of God in the land.

We see not our tokens, there is not one prophet more : no, not one is there among us, that understandeth any more.

O God, how long shall the adversary do this dishonour : how long shall the enemy blaspheme thy Name, for ever?

Why withdrawest thou thy hand : why pluckest thou not thy right hand out of thy bosom to consume the enemy?

For God is my King of old : the help that is done upon earth he doeth it himself.

Thou didst divide the sea through thy power : thou brakest the heads of the dragons in the waters.

Thou smotest the heads of Leviathan in pieces : and gavest him to be meat for the people in the wilderness.

Thou broughtest out fountains and waters out of the hard rocks : thou driedst up mighty waters.

The day is thine, and the night is thine : thou hast prepared the light and the sun.

Thou hast set all the borders of the earth : thou hast made summer and winter.

Remember this, O Lord, how the enemy hath rebuked : and how the foolish people hath blasphemed thy Name.

O deliver not the soul of thy turtle-dove unto the multitude of the enemies : and forget not the congregation of the poor for ever.

Look upon the covenant : for all the earth is full of darkness and cruel habitations.

O let not the simple go away ashamed : but let the poor and needy give praise unto thy Name. 

Arise, O God, maintain thine own cause : remember how the foolish man blasphemeth thee daily.

Forget not the voice of thine enemies : the presumption of them that hate thee increaseth ever more and more. 

In one translation of the Bible, this Psalm is subtitled ‘Plea for help in time of national humiliation.’ In verses 3-11, the writer describes what this national humiliation looks like. In numb despair, he explains the way the Temple – the holiest place in the nation – had been hacked, desecrated and destroyed; how the country’s other holy places have been burnt to the ground; how priests, prophets and symbols all alike have been eradicated. 

And yet this is not a psalm of despair: it’s a psalm where lament turns to anger, and then at last to hope. The psalm-writer laments all that has happened to his home, destroyed by unspecified ‘adversaries’ and ‘enemies’; he brings this lament to God in pain and anger, asking why God has allowed this to happen; and he finishes, after reminding God and himself of God’s glory and power, with a confident prayer for help. ‘Arise, O God, maintain thine own cause.’ 

However we have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic or by other times of suffering, pain, difficulty or grief, may we always have the courage to come before God in honesty: in despair, lament or anger. And may God, by grace, hear our prayers; meet us in the pain; and give us cause for hope. 

Philippa White