Today’s Reading Psalm 31:9-16
HOLY WEEK: PALM SUNDAY
I have on my shelves a Bible that my grandfather used when he was a student, a hundred or so years ago. It’s good to have that sort of contact with earlier generations, but what pleases me particularly is being able to see how he read it, what was important to him in it. Here are his underlinings of particular passages. Here are the things he scribbled in the margins. When I remember him from my boyhood, he comes across as a cheerful, outdoor, friendly man. All that was true. But here, in his private jottings, I trace something of the inner man, and how he became who he was.
That is a small window on what we ought to think and feel as we read the Psalms and think of Jesus. It’s passages like this that make it obvious; but really we should sense, all through the Psalter, his quiet presence, inhabiting the ancient traditions of his people, pondering and praying through the joys and the sorrows, reflecting on the portrait of the coming king, agonizing over the constant refrain of sorrow and exile. Here, if we listen carefully, we trace something of how Jesus became who he was. ‘Even though he was the Son,’ says an early Christian writer, ‘he learned obedience by what he suffered’ (Hebrews 5.8). And, as we read the Psalms, we realize how he learned that obedience. His own praying had been formed by these poems. We are privileged to pray them with him, sensing his presence as we do so.
It would be good to read the whole Psalm, of course, not just these central eight verses. According to Luke (23.46), Jesus prayed verse 5 (‘into your hand I commit my spirit’) as he hung dying on the cross. The opening of the Psalm sets the agony of the central passage into the context of a rock-bottom trust in God, despite all that the world can do. The closing passage, too, celebrates God’s continuing and abundant goodness and protection. But here, in the middle, we find the passage which meant that, when Jesus was plotted against, whispered about, picked up by the soldiers, laughed at, spat at, abandoned by his friends, he knew this didn’t mean he had somehow fallen out of God’s hands. It didn’t mean he had taken a wrong turn.
This lesson is vital for the church as a whole and for every individual Christian. Of course, it is possible to take a wrong turn and suffer the consequences. It’s no use quoting these verses if you have rebelled and gone your own way, and find yourself in a mess as a result. The right thing then is to repent and get back on course as quickly as possible. But if, so far as you know, you have faithfully trusted and followed, and then find yourself in this kind of distress, lonely and misunderstood, it may be that this is simply part of your particular call to join in the prayer of Jesus, the suffering of Jesus, so that his life and joy may also be revealed in you and through you. Read 2 Corinthians 4 and see how one very early Christian came to exactly this conclusion, using the Psalms to help him.
And when the church as a whole finds itself in difficulties — lack of money, mocked in the media, perplexed about what to do next — that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s taken a wrong turn, either. Of course, scandals and divisions are shameful. It is all too possible for the church to get it horribly wrong. When that happens it must say sorry, to God and to everyone who’s been affected. But sometimes God’s people as a whole are called to follow their Lord through the darkness as well as into the light. That’s why the Psalms remain indispensable in our public worship as well as our private prayer.
Thank you, gracious Lord, that we can share your own prayer as we go through the darkness. Help us this coming week to stay close to you and to share your faith and hope.
We would like to thank SPCK Publishing for providing Lent for Everyone by Tom Wright. For more information, please visit their site: http://www.spckpublishing.co.uk/shop/lent-for-everyone-matthew/
Lent for Everyone is a devotional created and written by N.T. (Tom) Wright. For each day of Lent, there is a reading chosen from the Gospel of Matthew, plus a reflection by Wright. These readings have grown out of a project encouraging Lent reading in Northern England. This is the second in a three-volume series based on the Revised Common Lectionary of the Church of England.