Singing the Lord’s song in a foreign landPsalm 137.4
At the moment our Church, our people, are in exile. We find ourselves exiled – cut off – from our families, our Church family, our work-mates, our normal life! This leads to a profound sense of sadness, of loss, which can lead to depression. I, personally, felt really depressed in early April – thank God that’s passed. But you know, dear friends and bible readers – the experience of exile was very familiar to God’s ancient people – the Jews. Every year, at their Passover, they encourage each other, “Next year in Jerusalem”. The Holy City of Jerusalem will always be “home” for them, and absence from it, in any other part of the world, is exile. This is reflected in their holy book, the Old Testament. Many of the Psalms, great chunks of the Prophets, Isaiah, Ezekiel, all of Daniel, were written to Jews living in exile from Jerusalem. Psalm 137 is perhaps the best known,
made popular by Bob Marley of Jamaica in the 60’s. “By the rivers of Babylon – there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion” (Jerusalem) — Psalm 137:1
But today I want to focus on a psalm written by an exile – Psalms 42 and 43 (actually one psalm though written as 2 psalms in our bibles). It’s one of my favourites and I believe, speaks very strongly to our feelings in our time of exile. It teaches us how to sing the Lord’s song even as we’re exiled form our Church, home and family. Read Psalm 42:1-2.
Always use your imagination to enter into the mind of the psalmist. Imagine a poor deer – hunted to death by ferocious dogs or a lion – how he, she must long for help, for water, for life! So we are meant to long for our God who is all of these things to us. We are like the psalmist who experienced the presence of God supremely in the temple of Jerusalem, the very face of God. We too long to know the presence of God even while absent from Mass and Eucharistic Adoration.
In his present sadness, the psalmist recalls “The good old days” when Easter Sunday in Church was the spiritual highlight of our year. But now he is all too aware of unbelievers taunting him – “Where is God now? What’s he doing in this Covid-19 crisis?
At sad times, like now, we always need to “Buck ourselves up” – spiritually. Remember God, remember his promises (like Jesus’ promise “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20). Cry out to God, tell him our feelings, “deep calls to deep”. Remember God’s unchanging, loving character.
In spite of doing the above, still often feelings of depression will come back. Verse 9 – “Why have you forgotten me?” Think of Jesus on the cross (“My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22.1) How his adversaries – the High Priests – taunted him, “Where is your God”?
The psalmist’s final plea to God – “Vindicate me, O God, defend my cause… send out your light and your truth… let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling.“ We Christians read these lines in the light of the resurrection of Jesus, and particularly, of his appearance to two despondent followers of his, Cleopas and his companion on the road to Emmaus. (Luke 24:13-35).
Jesus is God’s light and truth in person. He leads us always into the experience of God’s presence in the Eucharist (denied to us now) but also as we listen to God’s voice in the Holy Scriptures. As we read them attentively in faith (of Lectio Divina). He will open the Scriptures to us and cause our hearts to burn within us, re-assuring us of His presence with us always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20).
And as sure as Cleopas and friend experienced the Easter Joy, so will we. And we shall sing the Lord’s song in this strange land of Covid-19 and the unknown beyond – right up until when the Lord returns. “Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.” (Mark 13:33).
May God bless you richly my faithful readers and keep you singing the Lord’s song until then.
Love in Christ,