17 June 2022

Praying with the Psalms in Ordinary Time:
17 June 2022 (Psalm 114)

‘When Israel went out from Egypt … The sea looked and fled’ (Psalm 114: 1-3) … an illustration in the ‘Passover Haggadah’ by the Polish-American artists Arthur Szyk

Patrick Comerford

In the Calendar of the Church, this is Ordinary Time. Two of us are staying in Lichfield, and planning to return to the Chapel of Saint John's Hospital and Lichfield Cathedral later today. But, before this day begins, I am taking some time this morning to continue my 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 114:

Psalm 114 is the second of the six psalms (Psalms 113-118) comprising the Hallel (הַלֵּל, ‘Praise’). It is sometimes known by its opening phrase in Latin, In exitu Israel. In the slightly different numbering system in the Greek Septuagint and in the Latin Vulgate, this psalm is the first part of Psalm 113.

Psalms 113-118 are among the earliest prayers written to be recited in the Temple on days of national celebration. They were sung as accompaniment to the Pesach or Passover sacrifice. Early rabbinic sources suggest that these psalms were said on the pilgrimage festivals – Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot.

These psalms are known as the ‘Egyptian Hallel’ because of the references in this psalm to the Exodus from Egypt.

Psalm 114 is a lyrical account of how nature itself trembled and rejoiced at the Exodus, when the Supreme Power intervened and recused the powerless.

This psalm begins with the Hebrew:

בְּצֵאת יִשְׂרָאֵל, מִמִּצְרָיִם; בֵּית יַעֲקֹב, מֵעַם לֹעֵז

In Hebrew this is an acrostic poem. At eight verses, this psalm is comparatively concise. It is composed of four stanzas of two lines, which the word Jacob envelops. The two central stanzas evoke with images full of life the miracle of the Red Sea and the passage of the Jordan. God is evoked only at the end of the Psalm, doubtless to arouse the expectation.

The first stanza recalls by the verb that the Hebrew people are born in the Exodus. The words sanctuary and domain designate the entire inheritance of God, not only in the geographical sense but also in a spiritual sense. The miracles that allow Israel to cross the Red Sea and cross the River Jordan are poetically enhanced by the process of hyperbole and by images evoking a life of natural elements, water and mountains. It is a means of manifesting all creation, with Israel and actively participating in its march towards the Promised Land.

1, Verses 1-3 recall the Exodus and its initial and final events: the people led Egypt, and were able to cross the Red Sea and the Jordan.

2, Verse 4 may be referring to the earth tremors that accompanied God’s appearance on Mount Sinai.

3, Verses 5-6 ask why these miracles too place.

4, Verses 7-8 tell us this was because the Lord of all creation was present. He commanded water to spring from the rock, quenching the thirst of the people during the Exodus.

As the physical earth responded to God’s command then, how do we respond?

Part of the Psalm 114 is quoted at the beginning of Dante’s Purgatorio, and this psalm was associated with burial and funeral rites in the Mediaeval Church. Later, John Milton wrote ‘A Paraphrase on Psalm 114’ among his poems of 1645.

‘The Lord … turns the rock into a pool of water’ (Psalm 114: 7-8) … rocks by the beach at Preveli on the south coast of Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Psalm 114 (NRSVA):

1 When Israel went out from Egypt,
the house of Jacob from a people of strange language,
2 Judah became God’s sanctuary,
Israel his dominion.

3 The sea looked and fled;
Jordan turned back.
4 The mountains skipped like rams,
the hills like lambs.

5 Why is it, O sea, that you flee?
O Jordan, that you turn back?
6 O mountains, that you skip like rams?
O hills, like lambs?

7 Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord,
at the presence of the God of Jacob,
8 who turns the rock into a pool of water,
the flint into a spring of water.

Today’s Prayer:

The theme this week in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘Focus 9/99,’ which was introduced on Sunday by the Revd M Benjamin Inbaraj, Director of the Church of South India’s SEVA department.

Friday 17 June 2022:

The USPG Prayer invites us to pray today in these words:

We give thanks for ecumenism and the ecumenical example shown by the Church of South India. May we remember that we have much in common with different denominations across the world.

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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