Text For The Month / Monatsspruch
Texts for the months of August and September 2013
I will exalt you, LORD, for you rescued me. You refused to let my enemies triumph over me.
O LORD my God, I cried to you for help, and you restored my health.
You brought me up from the grave, O LORD. You kept me from falling into the pit of death.
Sing to the LORD, all you godly ones! Praise his holy name.
For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favour lasts a lifetime! Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.
When I was prosperous, I said, “Nothing will stop me now!”
Your favour, O LORD, made me as secure as a mountain. Then you turned away from me, and I was shattered.
I cried out to you, O LORD. I begged the Lord for mercy, saying,
“What will you gain if I die, if I sink into the grave? Can my dust praise you? Can it tell of your faithfulness?
Hear me, LORD, and have mercy on me. Help me, O LORD.”
You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy, that I might sing praises to you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever!
It was of course not the whole psalm which was chosen as the text of the month. But the longer I thought about the actual verse: You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy, the more I became convinced that only the reading of the entire psalm would do. The reasons for this are manifold and cannot all be considered here. So I have chosen a few key elements:
The psalms, being laments, prayers, and thanksgivings in the Old Testament, the spiritual expressions of God’s people long before the advent of Jesus Christ, lead to their historic use in Judaism. It is not surprising that the exceptionally strong and timeless Psalm 30 has a special place in the Jewish liturgy of “Hanukkah”, the Festival of Lights… And in the 17th century, Psalm 30 became also a part of Jewish daily prayer. The psalm is an expression and experience of life as God’s people, and that includes all of us. For Dietrich Bonhoeffer for instance, the psalms were an indispensible part of daily meditation.
It is the Psalmist, the individual person, who in this prayer of thanksgiving, demonstrates in powerful language, that all life, however good and joyful, however difficult, painful and terrifying, is coming from God. Of course his is not the God we so thoughtlessly invoke daily, when we exclaim “my God” in the most inappropriate moments. This always gets my hackles up; but that is a theme for another time...
The prayer starts with thanksgiving. It is a testimony of deliverance from a crisis. This may, in addition to what is already named, mean many different things to different people, and this does not matter in the sense of this prayer. It is an opening for everyone to what we consider hell on earth. That is the meaning of the “pit”. It may take a real threat to our well-being to gain faith in God.
From recounting the past, the Psalmist progresses with an invitation to join him in singing praise to the Lord, because out of the darkness of night emerges a new dawn.
While writing this down, my eyes catch a verse pinned on my desk, the year text for 1995: Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth, for I am God, and there is no other (Isaiah 45.22). No aspect of life falls outside the grace and mercy of God.
Now the psalm introduces another reality. This is our self-confidence, the reliance in our own apparently unlimited power to shape our own destiny. And we congratulate ourselves for our skills, ideas, forward-marching knowledge. Nobody will admit the enormity of our social, economic, environmental and political problems. By now already a lifetime ago, Bonhoeffer wrote in his “Ethics”, that “the problems of the world have become too much for us …”
Especially for people who have trusted God completely and have confessed him as their Lord, a sudden sense of his silence or absence can become unbearable. Even the most faithful can suffer this sense of loss. In the Bible a good example is the story of Job, who lost everything, except the praise of God. And nowhere is the agony of abandonment more profound than in Christ’s cry on the cross: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Mark 15). Jesus suffered with these words from Psalm 22 on his lips, a psalm quoted frequently in the New Testament …
Psalm 30 does not deny the reality of the darkness, but now an apparent “bargaining” with God enters the prayer: What will you gain if I die … can my dust praise you? Dealing with the general context of the psalm, it is not possible to expand on this aspect here properly. But who, in the face of the grave, will not say: “I am not ready yet, I still have plans to fulfil; there remain so many opportunities to serve you, Lord, by serving your creation, by glorifying your name …”
The end of the psalm returns to the beginning, thanksgiving for the rescue from whatever the triggering crisis may have been. Pinpointing the actual reason does not really matter. What matters, is the affirmation of faith in the eternal love of God, who hears his people and turns them to joyful dancing, singing and thanksgiving for ever.
Detail of Luca della Robbia’s “Singing Gallery”, 1431-1438, Florence
Seid nicht bekümmert, denn die Freude am Herrn ist eure Stärke. Nehemia 8,10
Dieser, aus seinem Zusammenhang heraus zitierte Teil eines Verses, betrachte ich hier als eine gute Ergänzung der Anmerkungen des Vormonats zu Psalm 30. Es ist die den Memoiren Nehemias entnommene Aufforderung zum feiern eines Festes. Der Landpfleger führt in der Geschichte Israels das Volk aus einer kulturellen und religiösen Krisenzeit zurück unter das Gesetz Gottes. Anstatt zu klagen und zu weinen über die Verfehlungen, soll nun die Freude am Herrn wieder zum Ausdruck gebracht werden. “Sollt ich meinem Gott nicht singen? Sollt ich ihm nicht dankbar sein?” EG 325
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