05 June 2022

Praying with the Psalms in Pentecost:
5 June 2022 (Psalm 102)

‘The Lord looked at the earth, to hear the groans of the prisoners, to set free those who were doomed to die’ (Psalm 102: 19-20) … the Old Gaol in Buckingham (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

This is Pentecost Day (5 June 2022), and later this morning I hope to attend the Parish Eucharist in Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church, Stony Stratford. This morning I am also reading the lessons for a broadcast Pentecost service on Clare FM at 7.45, recorded by Stephen Fletcher in his studio in Milton Keynes a few days ago.

But before this day begins, I am taking some time this morning to continue my reflections in the seasons of Lent and Easter, 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 102:

Psalm 102 is sometimes known by its Latin name Domine exaudi orationem meam. In the slightly different numbering system in the Greek Septuagint and Latin Vulgate, this psalm is counted as Psalm 101.

This is one of the psalms not included in the Revised Common Lectionary.

This is one of the seven penitential psalms. It begins the final section of the three traditional divisions of the Latin psalms, and so the first words (‘Domine exaudi orationem meam et clamor meus ad te veniat ...’) and above all the initial ‘D’ are often enlarged in illuminated manuscript psalters, following the pattern of the Beatus initials at the start of Psalm 1.

In the original Hebrew, the first verse introduces the psalm as ‘A prayer of the poor man’ or ‘A prayer of the afflicted.’

In Midrash Tehillim, Rabbi Pinchas notes that in some psalms David calls himself by name, as in ‘A prayer of David’ (see Psalm 17 and Psalm 86), but here he calls himself ‘the afflicted,’ as in ‘A prayer of one afflicted.’

Rabbi Pinchas says that when David foresaw the righteous men who would descend from him he called himself David. But when he perceived the wicked men who would be his descendants he called himself ‘the afflicted.’

David calls this Psalm the prayer of an afflicted person who has been weakened by his troubles and calls out to God. He asks God to heed this prayer and not turn away from him on his day of trouble. Rather, he hopes that God will quickly answer his plea.

The afflicted person says that his days are insubstantial, like smoke, and that his bones are destroyed within him as if they were burned. His heart is like dry, withered grass and he no longer knows how to enjoy the fruits of his own labours. He is physically depleted from the strength of his own sighs. He feels like a bird in the wilderness, away from human settlements. He endures alone, while his enemies mock him. His sustenance is ashes and tears, the stuff of mourning.

Our days are like a growing shadow – eventually darkness comes. But God goes on forever and every generation will acknowledge him.

When the time comes, God will have mercy on the people. Those in exile long to return home. When God brings them home, the nations of the world will be in awe of him. God will rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple, where he will reveal himself in all his glory.

God answers the prayer of the people, who are destroyed and reviled by their enemies. But God looks down, sees their suffering, and frees them. The restored exiles will praise God and the nations of the world will join in his service.

In Jewish tradition, Psalm 102 is one of 15 psalms recited by Sephardi Jews as additional hymns during the Yom Kippur service. Sephardi Jews recite verse 14 after the prayer of Ein Keloheinu in the morning service. This verse is also used as a popular Jewish song called Atah Takum or Atah Sakum, with its popular refrain .

Psalm 102 is said in times of community crisis. It is also recited as a prayer for a childless woman to give birth. In the Siddur Sfas Emes, this psalm is said as a prayer ‘for the well-being of an ill person.’

TS Eliot’s poem ‘Ash Wednesday’ has been described as ‘the greatest achievement of Eliot’s poetry.’ It was published in its complete form in 1930, three years after his conversion to Anglicanism in 1927, and it appears in his Selected Poems. The poem ends with a prayer from Psalm 102: ‘And let my cry come unto thee’ (see Psalm 102: 1).

‘My days are like an evening shadow; I wither away like grass’ (Psalm 102: 12) … the grass in Tombs Meadow in Stony Stratford in the late evening (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Psalm 102 (NRSVA):

A prayer of one afflicted, when faint and pleading before the Lord

1 Hear my prayer, O Lord;
let my cry come to you.
2 Do not hide your face from me
on the day of my distress.
Incline your ear to me;
answer me speedily on the day when I call.

3 For my days pass away like smoke,
and my bones burn like a furnace.
4 My heart is stricken and withered like grass;
I am too wasted to eat my bread.
5 Because of my loud groaning
my bones cling to my skin.
6 I am like an owl of the wilderness,
like a little owl of the waste places.
7 I lie awake;
I am like a lonely bird on the housetop.
8 All day long my enemies taunt me;
those who deride me use my name for a curse.
9 For I eat ashes like bread,
and mingle tears with my drink,
10 because of your indignation and anger;
for you have lifted me up and thrown me aside.
11 My days are like an evening shadow;
I wither away like grass.

12 But you, O Lord, are enthroned for ever;
your name endures to all generations.
13 You will rise up and have compassion on Zion,
for it is time to favour it;
the appointed time has come.
14 For your servants hold its stones dear,
and have pity on its dust.
15 The nations will fear the name of the Lord,
and all the kings of the earth your glory.
16 For the Lord will build up Zion;
he will appear in his glory.
17 He will regard the prayer of the destitute,
and will not despise their prayer.

18 Let this be recorded for a generation to come,
so that a people yet unborn may praise the Lord:
19 that he looked down from his holy height,
from heaven the Lord looked at the earth,
20 to hear the groans of the prisoners,
to set free those who were doomed to die;
21 so that the name of the Lord may be declared in Zion,
and his praise in Jerusalem,
22 when peoples gather together, and kingdoms, to worship the Lord.

23 He has broken my strength in mid-course;
he has shortened my days.
24 ‘O my God,’ I say, ‘do not take me away
at the mid-point of my life,
you whose years endure
throughout all generations.’

25 Long ago you laid the foundation of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
26 They will perish, but you endure;
they will all wear out like a garment.
You change them like clothing, and they pass away;
27 but you are the same, and your years have no end.
28 The children of your servants shall live secure;
their offspring shall be established in your presence.

Today’s Prayer:

The theme in this week’s prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘The Time to Act is Now!’ This theme is introduced this morning by Linet Musasa, of the Anglican Council of Zimbabwe, who writes:

Every year, World Environment Day is celebrated on 5 June. This is an important day worldwide and the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe will join the rest of the world in commemorating the day. The impact of climate change in Zimbabwe is likely to stall the country’s development and pose a serious risk to supplies of food and water. The time to act is now!

The theme for this World Environment Day is ‘Only One Earth’. This theme reminds us of the responsibility we have as the Church to protect our world.

As Christians, God has given us a mandate to look after the earth as shown in scripture.

Genesis 1, v26: ‘Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’

God has given us a mandate that we should have dominion over the earth. So, it is our responsibility to preserve that which God has made and given us.

The USPG Prayer Diary this morning (Sunday 5 June 2022, Pentecost) invites us to pray:

Creator God,
May we be guided by the Holy Spirit in all we do.
Help us to live out our faith,
seeing diversity as a gift, not a barrier.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

‘Come Holy Spirit’ … the holy water stoup in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield … today is the Day of Pentecost or Pentecost Sunday (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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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