15 May 2022

Praying with the Psalms in Easter:
15 May 2022 (Psalm 81)

‘I relieved your shoulder of the burden; your hands were freed from the basket’ (Psalm 81: 6) … a basket on a ledge in Aghios Giorgios on the Greek island of Corfu (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Today is the Fifth Sunday of Easter, and I am planning to attend the Parish Eucharist in the Church of Saint Mary and Saint Giles this morning (15 May 2022). Before this day begins, I am continuing my morning reflections in this season of Easter continues, including my morning reflections drawing on the Psalms.

In my blog, I am reflecting each morning in this Prayer Diary 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.

Psalm 81:

Psalm 81 is found in Book 3 in the Book of Psalms, which includes Psalms 73 to 89. In the slightly different numbering scheme in the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate, this is psalm is numbered as Psalm 80.

This is the tenth of the ‘Psalms of Asaph.’ These are the 12 psalms numbered 50 and 73 to 83 in the Masoretic text and 49 and 72-82 in the Septuagint. Each psalm has a separate meaning, and these psalms cannot be summarised easily as a whole.

But throughout these 12 psalms is the shared theme of the judgment of God and how the people must follow God’s law.

The superscription of this psalm reads: ‘A Psalm of Asaph.’ The attribution of a psalm to Asaph could mean that it was part of a collection from the Asaphites, identified as Temple singers, or that the psalm was performed in a style associated with Asaph, who was said to be the author or transcriber of these psalms.

Asaph who is identified with these psalms was a Levite, the son of Berechiah and descendant of Gershon, and he was the ancestor of the Asaphites, one the guilds of musicians in the first Temple in Jerusalem.

Asaph served both David and Solomon, and performed at the dedication of Solomon’s Temple (see II Chronicles 5: 12). His complaint against corruption among the rich and influential, recorded in Psalm 73, for example, might have been directed against some of court officials. The words used to describe the wicked come from words used by officials of the cult or sacrificial system.

Several of the Psalms of Asaph are categorised as communal laments because they are concerned for the well-being of the whole community. Many of these psalms forecast destruction or devastation in the future, but are balanced with God’s mercy and saving power for the people.

Psalm 81 relates to the themes of celebration and repentance. This psalm emphasises praising a God who saves and a national return to liturgical worship.

The concept of choosing to act on the desires and wants of humans rather than walking with God and being in his favour is brought to light in this psalm. It also calls for repentance from the people to reorder God’s protection upon them.

The reference to the new moon and full moon as well as the blowing of the trumpet in verse 3 may reflect the celebration of New Year and Tabernacles.

This psalm can be divided into two parts:

1, verses 1-5b: The beginning of Psalm 81 is like a hymn. The reference to the new moon and full moon as well as the blowing of the trumpet in verse 3 may reflect the celebration of New Year and Tabernacles.

2, verses 5c–16: This hymn is followed by an oracle. In particular, verses 6-10 describe ‘God’s deliverance of his people from Egypt,’ while verses 11-16 recall the past disobedience of the people and promise to give victory over their enemies if they obey God.

The teaching of verses 9 and 10 is similar to the beginning of the Decalogue, although the words for ‘strange’ god and ‘foreign’ god are different from the ‘other gods’ in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, with the verb ‘brought [you] up’ and the order of the phrases reversed.

Some commentators argue that Psalm 81 is the poetic centre of the Psalter being the middle book (book 3 of 5), middle Psalm (8 of 17) and even point to the middle verses of this Psalm (Psalm 81: 8, 9 with ‘if you would but listen to me’).

‘Your hands were freed from the basket’ (Psalm 81: 6) … baskets in a shop in Ennistymon, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 81 (NRSVA):

To the leader: according to The Gittith. Of Asaph.

1 Sing aloud to God our strength;
shout for joy to the God of Jacob.
2 Raise a song, sound the tambourine,
the sweet lyre with the harp.
3 Blow the trumpet at the new moon,
at the full moon, on our festal day.
4 For it is a statute for Israel,
an ordinance of the God of Jacob.
5 He made it a decree in Joseph,
when he went out over the land of Egypt.

I hear a voice I had not known:
6 ‘I relieved your shoulder of the burden;
your hands were freed from the basket.
7 In distress you called, and I rescued you;
I answered you in the secret place of thunder;
I tested you at the waters of Meribah.
Selah 8 Hear, O my people, while I admonish you;
O Israel, if you would but listen to me!
9 There shall be no strange god among you;
you shall not bow down to a foreign god.
10 I am the Lord your God,
who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.
Open your mouth wide and I will fill it.

11 ‘But my people did not listen to my voice;
Israel would not submit to me.
12 So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts,
to follow their own counsels.
13 O that my people would listen to me,
that Israel would walk in my ways!
14 Then I would quickly subdue their enemies,
and turn my hand against their foes.
15 Those who hate the Lord would cringe before him,
and their doom would last for ever.
16 I would feed you with the finest of the wheat,
and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.’

Today’s Prayer:

The theme in this week’s prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘Advocacy in Brazil.’ It is introduced this morning this way:

Located in the capital of Brazil, the Anglican Diocese of Brasília is at the centre of political and economic decisions in the country. In February 2021, the diocese launched its own Department of Advocacy and Human Rights. The Revd Dr Rodrigo Espiúca was appointed as coordinator of the department. Under the pastoral leadership of Bishop Maurício Andrade, the diocese began to act on the national political scene, making the Church’s voice heard in debates, especially in matters relating to human and environmental rights.

In April 2021, the Revd Dr Rodrigo Espiúca participated in a public hearing with the Human Rights Commission of the Brazilian Chamber of Federal Deputies. During his speech, the Revd Dr Rodrigo Espiúca highlighted the importance of the Church being part of public debate, placing itself on the side of socially vulnerable people.

The creation of the Diocesan Department of Advocacy and Human Rights is an important milestone in the history of the Anglican Diocese of Brasilia, as it now explicitly represents the Church in the political arena.

The USPG Prayer Diary this morning (15 May 2022, Easter V) invites us to pray:

Holy Father,
we give thanks for the gift of family.
May we embrace those around us,
Remembering that we are all your children.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

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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