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The Lord our Light: Praying Together with the Psalms 43

Written by Philippa White, posted on Tuesday, May 19, 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 96Tree reflected in a lake

O sing unto the Lord a new song : sing unto the Lord, all the whole earth.

Sing unto the Lord, and praise his Name : be telling of his salvation from day to day.

Declare his honour unto the heathen : and his wonders unto all people.

For the Lord is great, and cannot worthily be praised : he is more to be feared than all gods.

As for all the gods of the heathen, they are but idols : but it is the Lord that made the heavens.

Glory and worship are before him : power and honour are in his sanctuary.

Ascribe unto the Lord, O ye kindreds of the people : ascribe unto the Lord worship and power.

Ascribe unto the Lord the honour due unto his Name : bring presents, and come into his courts.

O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness : let the whole earth stand in awe of him.

Tell it out among the heathen that the Lord is King : and that it is he who hath made the round world so fast that it cannot be moved; and how that he shall judge the people righteously.

Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad : let the sea make a noise, and all that therein is. 

Let the field be joyful, and all that is in it : then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice before the Lord.

For he cometh, for he cometh to judge the earth : and with righteousness to judge the world, and the people with his truth.

Psalms 95 to 100 are a sequence of songs of praise to God as Lord and King. They paint a picture of God as great and glorious, like the visions of God seen by prophets like Isaiah (6:1-5) and Ezekiel (chapter 1); and they invite all people to come into God’s presence, to sing God’s praise, and to welcome God who comes to meet his people.

It’s easy to think that this invitation to rejoicing could only have been written by and for people for whom everything in their life was going well. But, whenever this psalm was first written, it was used, adapted, and collected into the Book of Psalms during the dark and difficult days when the people of Israel were in exile. Even far from home, restricted and oppressed, the people of Israel saw God’s glory and called one another to worship.

And we know from Christian history too that some of the greatest visions of God as loving and glorious, and some of the greatest texts of praise and trust, have been seen and written by people who have experienced great suffering. We think of Julian of Norwich, living through the plague of 1348 and yet hearing God say to her ‘‘My darling, behold and see thy lord, thy God, that is thy maker and thy endless joy.’ (chapter 24); or of the wonderful hymn ‘Now thank we all our God,’ written by Martin Rinkart, pastor of Eilenburg in Saxony through horrendous war, famine and plagues of the

1630s. Praise, thanksgiving and trust are not a retreat from reality, they are a courageous assertion that however dark our reality, God is still king; God is still glorious; God is still coming to bring righteousness and truth into the world.

Philippa White