Wednesday, 9 March 2022

Praying with the Psalms in Lent:
9 March 2022 (Psalms 22, 23, 24)

God hears the cry of the poor and the afflicted (Psalm 22: 24-26) … ‘Christ the Beggar’, a sculpture by Timothy Schmalz on the steps of Santo Spirito Hospital near the Vatican (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

We are now a full week into Lent, which began last week on Ash Wednesday (2 March 2022). Before today begins, I am taking some time early this morning for prayer, reflection and reading.

During Lent this year, in this Prayer Diary on my blog each morning, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, Short reflections on a psalm or psalms;

2, reading the psalm or psalms;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Psalm 22: 1) … words repeated by the dying Christ on the Cross … a cross on the nave altar in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 22:

Psalm 22 is a prayer for deliverance from illness. The psalmist, who is gravely ill, feels that God has forsaken himIn the past, God has helped his people (verses 4-5), and now he asks God to help him. He goes on to say that he will offer thanksgiving in assembly of the community, in the Temple (verse 22).

But he offers thanksgiving in the Temple and in this portion of the psalm he comes to the conclusion that God hears the voice of the poor and the hungry (verse 26).

In his dying moments on the cross, Christ quotes an Aramaic version of the opening words of this psalm: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Psalm 22: 1; see Matthew 27: 46; Mark 15: 34).

In his suffering, the psalmist feels deserted by God, despite his cries for help day and night. Even so, he is convinced that God is holy. His forebears trusted in God, as he does, and God helped them, so may God help him now.

Those who mock him aggravate his misery. They see his suffering as a sign of God’s ineffectiveness, and so they jeer him. But he is convinced that God has been with him since his infancy, and only God alone can help him now.

Now God hears the cry of the poor and the afflicted (verses 24-26). He provides perpetual life for the poor those who live in awe of him. May all people everywhere turn to God and worship him (verse 27). God is Lord of all (verse 28). All mortals, all who die or go down to the dust (verse 29), worship God. The psalmist says he will live following God’s ways, and so will his offspring. They will be God’s for ever, and will tell future generations about God’s saving deeds.

God is the God of all people and nations, to the ends of the earth, and the God of the generations to come, a people yet unborn (verse 31).

Christ as the Good Shepherd … a mosaic in the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 23:

Psalm 23 is one of the best-known psalms, and is often known by its opening words in the King James Version, ‘The Lord is my Shepherd.’ In Latin, it is known by the incipit, Dominus reget me.

A metrical version of the psalm, traditionally sung to the hymn tune Crimond is attributed to Jessie Seymour Irvine (1836-1887), opens with the words ‘The Lord's My Shepherd,’ and is one of the best-known hymns among English-speakers.

The author of this psalm describes God as his shepherd, in the role of protector and provider. For Christians, the image of God as a shepherd evokes connections not only with David but with Christ as the Good Shepherd in Saint John’s Gospel (see John 10: 11, 14). The phrase about ‘the valley of the shadow of death’ is often understood as an allusion to eternal life.

The theme of God as a shepherd was common in ancient Israel and Mesopotamia. For example, King Hammurabi, in the conclusion to his famous legal code, wrote: ‘I am the shepherd who brings well-being and abundant prosperity; my rule is just … so that the strong might not oppress the weak, and that even the orphan and the widow might be treated with justice.’

Psalm 23 portrays God as a good shepherd, feeding and leading his flock. The ‘rod and staff’ are also used by shepherds. The shepherd is to know each of the sheep by name, leads them to green pastures and still waters so they may eat and drink.

In this psalm, we can also imagine King David acknowledging God’s protection throughout his life.

Christ the Good Shepherd (see Psalm 23), with the Virgin Mary and Saint John the Baptist on each side … a stained-glass window in Saint Mary’s Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 23:

Psalm 23 has enduring popularity because of its description of the Good Shepherd.

In the ancient Near East, the king was seen as shepherd (verse 1-4) and as host (verses 5-6). God faithfully provides for, and constantly cares for, his sheep. He revives our very lives, the ‘soul’ (verse 3), and guides us in godly ways or ‘right paths.’

Even when we are beset by evil or find ourselves in the ‘darkest valley’ (verse 4), we have nothing to fear. God’s ‘rod,’ the shepherd’s defence against wolves and lions, protects us. His ‘staff’ (verse 4), used for rescuing sheep from thickets, guides us.

The feast (verse 5) is even more impressive, for it is laid out for us, the table is set for us, in the presence of his foes. Kings were plenteously anointed with oil, a symbol of power and dedication to a holy purpose.

The psalmist trusts that God’s ‘goodness and mercy’ and God’s steadfast love (verse 6) will follow or pursue him, as do his enemies, throughout his life. He will continue to worship in the Temple or ‘dwell in the house of the Lord,’ as long as he lives.

‘Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors!’ (Psalm 24, 7, 9) … old doors seen through the gates of Cappoquin House, Co Waterford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 24:

Psalm 24 is a song of joyous procession to the Temple. This psalm reflects an ancient myth that tells of the divine conquest of the unruly forces of chaos, but the psalm becomes a hymn of praise to God the creator, followed by a liturgy on entering the Temple. The opening verses mirror the act of creation. The connection between Creation and the Temple is based on the idea that the Temple was a microcosm of the universe, and its construction a human counterpart to the Divine creation of the cosmos.

With its question-and-answer format, it was probably sung antiphonally, as the Ark was borne to the Temple.

Psalm 24 begins with creation, ‘The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it’ (verse 1), and moves directly to the moral requirements of religious life: ‘Who shall ascend to the hill of the Lord?’ (verse 3).

Verses 4-6 give the answer: those who are pure, who do not worship false gods, and who do not harm others with false oaths. They will be blessed by God, with prosperity. Just as God created an orderly universe, so we are commanded to create an orderly society. Worshipping God in the Temple is not divorced from honesty and integrity in daily life.

In the second half of this psalm (verses 7-10), the pilgrims identify God in terms traditionally associated with the Ark: he is ‘the King of glory,’ ‘the Lord of hosts,’ the victor and the hero of Israel.

The words ‘Lift up your heads, O gates!’ (verses 7, 9), are said, traditionally, to have been said by King Solomon when the Ark, containing the tablets of the covenant, was first brought into the Temple. The doors are those between the outer court and the sanctuary of the Temple. Perhaps a priest asks: ‘Who is the King of glory?’ (verse 8, 10) from within, and the people answer from the court. God dwells in the sanctuary.

Psalm 22 (NRSVA):

To the leader: according to The Deer of the Dawn. A Psalm of David.

1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.

3 Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
4 In you our ancestors trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
5 To you they cried, and were saved;
in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.

6 But I am a worm, and not human;
scorned by others, and despised by the people.
7 All who see me mock at me;
they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
8 ‘Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver—
let him rescue the one in whom he delights!’

9 Yet it was you who took me from the womb;
you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.
10 On you I was cast from my birth,
and since my mother bore me you have been my God.
11 Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.

12 Many bulls encircle me,
strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
13 they open wide their mouths at me,
like a ravening and roaring lion.

14 I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast;
15 my mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.

16 For dogs are all around me;
a company of evildoers encircles me.
My hands and feet have shrivelled;
17 I can count all my bones.
They stare and gloat over me;
18 they divide my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots.

19 But you, O Lord, do not be far away!
O my help, come quickly to my aid!
20 Deliver my soul from the sword,
my life from the power of the dog!
21 Save me from the mouth of the lion!

From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.
22 I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
23 You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him;
stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
24 For he did not despise or abhor
the affliction of the afflicted;
he did not hide his face from me,
but heard when I cried to him.

25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
26 The poor shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek him shall praise the Lord.
May your hearts live for ever!

27 All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the Lord;
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before him.
28 For dominion belongs to the Lord,
and he rules over the nations.

29 To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
and I shall live for him.
30 Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord,
31 and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,
saying that he has done it.

Psalm 23 (NRSVA):

A Psalm of David.

1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
3 he restores my soul
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.

4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.

Psalm 24 (NRSVA):

Of David. A Psalm.

1 The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it,
the world, and those who live in it;
2 for he has founded it on the seas,
and established it on the rivers.

3 Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
4 Those who have clean hands and pure hearts,
who do not lift up their souls to what is false,
and do not swear deceitfully.
5 They will receive blessing from the Lord,
and vindication from the God of their salvation.
6 Such is the company of those who seek him,
who seek the face of the God of Jacob.
Selah

7 Lift up your heads, O gates!
and be lifted up, O ancient doors!
that the King of glory may come in.
8 Who is the King of glory?
The Lord, strong and mighty,
the Lord, mighty in battle.
9 Lift up your heads, O gates!
and be lifted up, O ancient doors!
that the King of glory may come in.
10 Who is this King of glory?
The Lord of hosts,
he is the King of glory.
Selah

Today’s Prayer:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary this morning (9 March 2022) invites us to pray:

We pray for the Diocese of Luapula in the Church of the Province of Central Africa.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

‘He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters’ (Psalm 23: 2) … the River Dodder at Firhouse, Co Dublin, this week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

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