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The Lord our Light: Praying Together with the Psalms 45

Written by Edmund Newey, posted on Thursday, May 21, 2020

Today, on Ascension Day, we end our series of reflections on the psalms.

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

Hands against rainbow lightPsalm 47

Clap your hands together, all ye people * O sing unto God with the voice of melody.

For the Lord is high, and to be feared * he is the great King upon all the earth.

He shall subdue the people under us * and the nations under our feet.

He shall choose out an heritage for us * even the worship of Jacob, whom he loved.

God is gone up with a merry noise * and the Lord with the sound of the trump.

O sing praises, sing praises unto our God * O sing praises, sing praises unto our King.

For God is the King of all the earth * sing ye praises with understanding. God reigneth over the heathen * God sitteth upon his holy seat.

The princes of the people are joined unto the people of the God of Abraham * for God, which is very high exalted, doth defend the earth, as it were with a shield.

The Vice-Principal of my theological college used to say that he was constitutionally incapable of clapping in church. Embarrassingly, I still share his discomfort when a worship song requires a handclap, but Psalm 47 shows us that clapping in worship is scarcely an innovation.

The opening verse probably refers to the kind of rhythmic clapping that can bind performers and an audience together. The calls to praise in verses 1 and 6 – ‘Clap’, ‘Sing’ – are followed by elaboration of the rationale for praise, each verse reiterating the divine majesty that covers all the earth.

In Christian worship this psalm is associated with today’s feast of the Ascension, calling us to lift our hearts to the heavenly places where Christ reigns at the Father’s right hand. Yet the psalm does not leave us in distant adoration, ‘staring up into heaven’ (Acts 1:11), for the one ‘which is very high exalted’ also ‘defends the earth’. Worshipping God in Christ, we are embraced by the unfolding of God’s love, whose ‘length and breadth and height and depth’ (Ephesians 3:18) encompass heaven and earth alike.

Edmund Newey