Easter 7 – 16th May 2021
A short service of Morning Prayer, today’s Psalm and some thoughts on it from Mary
This is the day that the Lord has made,
Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Let’s sing together,
O God our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
be Thou our guard while troubles last
and our eternal home.
Together we confess our sins and are forgiven
Have mercy on us and redeem us, O Lord
for our merits are your mercies
and in your judgement is our salvation
Happy the one whose transgression is forgiven and whose sin is covered,
. . . You surround me with songs of deliverance.
Let us pray in the words of St Benedict,
Gracious and Holy Father,
give us wisdom to perceive you,
diligence to seek you,
patience to wait for you,
eyes to behold you,
a heart to meditate on you
and a life to proclaim you,
through the power of the Spirit
of Jesus Christ our Lord.
1 Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.
4 Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
6 For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.
I wonder how you react to that Psalm. You may feel comfortable or uncomfortable. You may feel neither. I must admit that, for me, a brief moment of comfortable-ness (if that’s a real word!) quickly transformed into great discomfort, even worry and then strangely, back again.
The comfort came, momentarily, as I identified with the happiness, the blessedness of the first 3 verses. So often, even in bad times I DO feel like a well-watered tree, as though my roots somehow go right down into something much greater and powerful than me. As it says in another place I feel safe because I feel rooted in God’s loving-kindness. It’s amazing how often, usually on a bereavement visit or at somebodies sick-bed, a friend, a parishioner, will say something like, ‘How do people manage if they can’t turn to God?’ and I have to respond that I don’t know but that somehow I hope he can make his loving presence felt.
However, the discomfort which almost immediately replaced the slightly self-satisfied pleasure in my apparent situation came when I looked more closely and saw who these people were who were to feel all this peace and tranquillity deep down, to say nothing of guaranteed prosperity! Whichever translation you look at it is clear that these folk are ‘the righteous’ – they don’t appear to sin or do wicked things and spend the entire time in deep prayer and Bible study – if only! That is most certainly not me and I doubt (though of course I don’t know) that you feel it is you.
Comfort disappeared after an even shorter millisecond as I moved to verses 4 & 5. The self-satisfaction mentioned earlier clung on just long enough for me to dismiss the idea that I was one of ‘the wicked’ before, I’m relieved to say, it was swiftly replaced by a realisation that, probably, I was more properly to be filed amongst these people than amongst the aforesaid ‘righteous’!
And yet . . . and yet when I read the whole thing again, despite all the evidence against, my overall feeling was one of safety in the arms of God. How could this be?!
I turned to my trusty Bible Commentary to try and square this circle, and immediately the wisdom of its writers and patience of the Almighty began to explain the apparent un-explain-ability (another made up word?) of my reactions.
God and the commentators grabbed the bull by the horns immediately to deal with the palpable nonsense of words which seem to promise a lottery win for any and all who manage to live a perfect and godly life. Here is what they have to say,
“This promise of prosperity is not a pledge of good fortune in return for good behaviour – the Psalmist knows life too well for that! Rather, just as we continue to say ‘I believe in God the Father Almighty’ yet find that life often seems to deny both his fatherliness and his almightiness (glad I’m not the only one who makes up words!), so also this Psalm professes a creed: this world is God’s world and those who side with him will surely and ultimately enjoy blessing.” It fits so well with so many who I have heard, even in the depths of distress and pain, stating that however awful things are they are better with God than without him.
That helps a bit but still leaves us with the idea that this blessing from God, this feeling of his presence with us is bound up somehow with being ‘righteous’.
Again, in the power of the Spirit, our trusty commentary team gallop to the rescue by simply explaining what that word means. ‘Righteousness’ means ‘being right with God’, and if this present Easter season has taught us nothing else it is that ‘being right with God’, far from being something we can achieve ourselves, is a gift from him, bought at great price when he became man , died and rose again carrying away our guilt. We are right with him simply by accepting that priceless present.
If we accept the gift of salvation and allow ourselves to be transplanted, like a sapling tree, into a life where we try to live God’s way, we will feel our roots firming in, we will stand strong in his power through the storms of life however they may rock us. We will fail sometimes to live the distinctive way of his laws but we will also know that every time we turn back to the light of his presence we will be made anew, made right with him – indeed made ‘righteous’, and that means we will be blessed indeed. What comfort!
A reassuring poem based on Psalm 121
I lift up mine eyes to the quiet hills,
And my heart to the Father’s Throne;
In all my ways, to the end of days,
The Lord will preserve his own.
And a few words from St Anselm
Jesus, like a mother you gather your people to you, you are gentle with us as a mother with her children. Despair turns to hope through your sweet goodness, through your sweet goodness, through your gentleness we find comfort in fear. Your warmth gives life to the dead, your touch makes sinners righteous. Lord Jesus in your mercy heal us, in your love and tenderness remake us, in your compassion bring grace and forgiveness and for the beauty of heaven may your love prepare us.
Final words and a blessing
The Lord bless us and keep us,
the Lord make his face to shine upon us and be gracious to us,
the Lord lift up the light of his countenance upon us and give us peace
And the blessing of God Almighty,
the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,
be with us this day,
with those we love and those we pray for.
Let us go in peace to love and serve the Lord,
in the name of Christ