Singing God’s Praise
In one of her letters from Westerbork (a German transit camp), Etty Hillesum tells how one day she watched hundreds of Jews going into the train cars that would cart them off to the gas chambers of Auschwitz. They were singing psalms. Then she looked at the hard immobile faces of the Nazi guards and asked ‘which of these two groups were free, free to be themselves?’
(Jean Vanier Drawn into the mystery of Jesus)
They were singing psalms. Both Jews and Christians are united in placing the psalms at the centre of their worship. Everyday millions of people recite the psalms to sing God’s praises and place themselves in his care. They are songs to our God and although composed hundreds of years ago their depth and variety can fit the context of our lives. What is most important is that they involve a movement away from ourselves to God, but in a way that always takes us along. The psalms are rooted in our life experience, and they direct us to find God in ourselves, in our church communities and in the every day. It is here that we find our freedom.
As an example I want to reflect briefly in Psalm 85.
It is a community lament. A song that tries to deal with difficult times, when God seems absent or his blessing is not obvious.
Psalm 85:1 and 4
Lord, once you were favourable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us.
The people recognise that things are not right with them and God and they sense that they need healing and salvation. As always God is faithful, but we limit his blessings when we do not acknowledge his presence at the centre of our lives.
The psalmist calls us to repent so that God may work amongst his people:
Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.
As we begin our journey through Lent we are accustomed to re-engage ourselves with God. The turning back to God – metanoia – plays a significant part in our spiritual life as we seek the life of the resurrected Christ. As always it is this healthy relationship that brings us the joy and peace of salvation. In a recent meeting with Anglican Bishops, the Archbishop of Canterbury said our personal relationship with Jesus is the foundation of the Christian life. There is purpose also in the relationship. God is engaged in a mission in the world and we are called to participate in that mission. There is no point in saying that you turn back to God if you do not want to be with him in his mission to save humankind. We can hardly expect to be blessed in our church communities if we do not align ourselves with the mission of God. We may be concerned about our buildings and our financial management but God does not see stones, he sees people. ‘Lord, once you were favourable in your land’. If God seems absent, it is only because he is absent in our lives.
Christ gathered his disciples around him to save the world, he taught them how to love, to heal and how to teach Godly ways. The mission has not changed, and we will be blessed if we return to Christ as our leader. We need to build up our church communities as communities of disciples with Christ steering our endeavours. It is here that we find our freedom and our identity. We need to sing the song.
This year I ask you to pray for your self and your church community that you may discern the call to mission in your parish. Ask for forgiveness where you have forgotten Christ’s mission.
I request that this Good Friday we all reconnect with the Christ who embraced the world on the cross so that the Father’s mission may be accomplished.
The psalm has those wonderful words:
Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky.
Faithfulness will come from us on the ground, in our homes, in our churches and in our communities. Let us be faithful in our calling as disciples.
This year I am asking you to set aside some money to support the work of the Eden Gate project in Newport. As patron of the project I have recognised it’s work of mission to bring help to the poor, the homeless and those affected by drug abuse. There are major challenges to our national social services and charities such as Eden Gate provide essential support for those who often fall between the gaps. Jesus healed those on the edge of the crowd and I am grateful for Eden Gate for offering that Christian presence. Please read their story at Edengate.org.uk and give generously this Lent.
May I pray that we will journey well in Lent and bring ourselves closer to the will of God.
Lord, you were favourable to your land;
you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
You forgave the iniquity of your people;
you pardoned all their sin.
You withdrew all your wrath;
you turned from your hot anger.
Restore us again, O God of our salvation,
and put away your indignation toward us.
Will you be angry with us forever?
Will you prolong your anger to all generations?
Will you not revive us again,
so that your people may rejoice in you?
Show us your steadfast love, O Lord,
and grant us your salvation.
Let me hear what God the Lord will speak,
for he will speak peace to his people,
to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.
Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him,
that his glory may dwell in our land.
Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,
and righteousness will look down from the sky.
The Lord will give what is good,
and our land will yield its increase.
Righteousness will go before him,
and will make a path for his steps.