Sunday, 8 May 2022

Praying with the Psalms in Easter:
8 May 2022 (Psalm 74)

‘Why does your anger smoke against the sheep of your pasture?’ (Psalm 74: 1) … sheep grazing on the Curragh of Kildare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I am back in Stony Stratford after visiting London yesterday for a church service and a dinner. Today is the Fourth Sunday of Easter. 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 74:

Psalm 74 is the second psalm 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 73.

This is the third 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 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, 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 74 is a Maskil of Asaph or contemplation, and a community lament, voicing the pleas of the people in their exile and captivity in Babylon.

The theme of Psalm 74 revolves around the opening verse, which asks: ‘O God, why do you cast us off forever?’ The psalm, which forecasts destruction, comes across as a cry out to God, asking when salvation will come and when God will save the people from the depths of their despair.

Amid the cries of despair, a voice of praise to God comes through.

Psalm 74 had echoes for the community of the people during their captivity in Babylon. The enemy had damaged everything in the sanctuary and destroyed all the places of worship.

Asaph, one of the three temple singers assigned by King David to the Temple, wonders why God’s anger has allowed this invasion or this destruction to happen.

This psalm may divided into four sections:

1, The opening verses of this psalm (verses 1-3) implore God to remember God’s people ‘who you acquired long ago’, ‘your heritage,’ and to remember Mount Zion, ‘where you came to dwell.

Verse 1 portrays the image of the people as God’s flock, ‘the sheep of your pasture.’

2, The psalm continues (verses 3b to 11) by describing the destruction of the Temple by the enemies of God.

3, Then, in verses 12-17, the psalm recalls and praises the might of God.

4, The psalm ends (verses 18-23) by imploring God to remember Israel and to come to the aid of the people.

The enemy is not named, but may refer to King Nebuchadnezzar. According to the Targum, the reference is to Antiochus Epiphanes.

With Bishop David Hamid at a USPG conference in High Leigh … he introduces this week’s theme in the USPG Prayer Diary

Psalm 74 (NRSVA):

A Maskil of Asaph.

1 O God, why do you cast us off for ever?
Why does your anger smoke against the sheep of your pasture?
2 Remember your congregation, which you acquired long ago,
which you redeemed to be the tribe of your heritage.
Remember Mount Zion, where you came to dwell.
3 Direct your steps to the perpetual ruins;
the enemy has destroyed everything in the sanctuary.

4 Your foes have roared within your holy place;
they set up their emblems there.
5 At the upper entrance they hacked
the wooden trellis with axes.
6 And then, with hatchets and hammers,
they smashed all its carved work.
7 They set your sanctuary on fire;
they desecrated the dwelling-place of your name,
bringing it to the ground.
8 They said to themselves, ‘We will utterly subdue them’;
they burned all the meeting-places of God in the land.

9 We do not see our emblems;
there is no longer any prophet,
and there is no one among us who knows how long.
10 How long, O God, is the foe to scoff?
Is the enemy to revile your name for ever?
11 Why do you hold back your hand;
why do you keep your hand in your bosom?

12 Yet God my King is from of old,
working salvation in the earth.
13 You divided the sea by your might;
you broke the heads of the dragons in the waters.
14 You crushed the heads of Leviathan;
you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.
15 You cut openings for springs and torrents;
you dried up ever-flowing streams.
16 Yours is the day, yours also the night;
you established the luminaries and the sun.
17 You have fixed all the bounds of the earth;
you made summer and winter.

18 Remember this, O Lord, how the enemy scoffs,
and an impious people reviles your name.
19 Do not deliver the soul of your dove to the wild animals;
do not forget the life of your poor for ever.

20 Have regard for your covenant,
for the dark places of the land are full of the haunts of violence.
21 Do not let the downtrodden be put to shame;
let the poor and needy praise your name.
22 Rise up, O God, plead your cause;
remember how the impious scoff at you all day long.
23 Do not forget the clamour of your foes,
the uproar of your adversaries that goes up continually.

Today’s Prayer:

The theme in this week’s prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘Celebration in Casablanca.’ It is introduced this morning by the Right Revd Dr David Hamid, Suffragan Bishop in Europe:

‘It is not very often in the Church of England that we have to expand a church building in order to accommodate a growing worshipping congregation. That is precisely what has happened in Saint John the Evangelist Church in Casablanca.

‘Saint John’s has been home to Anglicans and other English-speaking Christians since 1906. In recent years the numbers of Christian migrants from all over the world has increased. In response, a plan was developed to build a community centre and extend the church building to almost double the capacity for attendance at services.

‘Among the growing sector of the congregation of Saint John’s are Filipino migrants. This year, Father Virgilio Fernandez, a priest from the Iglesia Filipina Independiente who is serving here with the support of USPG, has been appointed as the locum priest in Saint John’s to assist with the care for this community.

‘The dedication of the church extension was celebrated in September 2021. A civic ceremony welcomed political, diplomatic and ecumenical dignitaries and gave thanks to the collaboration from the Moroccan authorities. Celebrations continued with a Christian liturgy for the re-hallowing of the Church, the blessing of new stained-glass windows, baptisms and confirmations.’

The USPG Prayer Diary this morning (8 May 2022, Easter IV) invites us to pray:

Miraculous God,
you make the impossible possible.
May we continue to have hope in
you and in each other.

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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