30 June. Psalms 21-25
Psalm 23 (The Lord is my shepherd) is probably the best known of all the psalms, for many people have found comfort in its image of God’s guiding presence in times of peace and times of trouble alike. But I will focus today on the ones either side – Pss. 22 and 24.
Today is known as “Petertide” (St Peter’s day) and traditionally the day for ordaining new deacons and priests in the [Catholic or Anglican] Church. These psalms speak to those called to this ministry.
In the first half of Ps. 22 the writer tells of how he feels persecuted by the people around him, describing them as dogs, lions and bulls. But in verse 21 the mood suddenly changes and he is saved by God from them. Then he declares “I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you … From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him” (22:22,25). Those who feel called to leadership in the church often have a story to tell of how they themselves felt God calling them out of some difficult situation, and want to offer themselves to the Lord to serve him in gratitude. They also want the opportunity to share their story with others and inspire them to find the saving grace of God. As the Psalmist writes, “Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.” (22:30,31)
Psalm 24 is one of the “songs of ascent” believed to have been sung in procession up the hill of Jerusalem to the Temple. The song calls for the great doors of the Temple to be swung open – not so that people can enter, but that God himself can come in. Part of the priest’s role in leading worship is to prepare his or her congregation – who make the Church, rather than the building itself – to receive God into their lives. But in order to fulfil this high calling, the priest has to be a person of integrity: “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully” (24:3,4). Which is why ordinands usually go on a few days silent retreat before the ceremony so that they can examine their consciences and prepare themselves to meet with the Lord who calls them.
Both these Psalms, as well as Psalm 23, are also associated with the last days in the life of Jesus, by Christians who believe him to be “the Lord coming to his Temple”. John Stainer in his oratorio “The crucifixion” set those verses of Psalm 24 as the chorus “Fling wide the gates, the Saviour waits”; and the first half of 22 with its reference to abandonment, mocking, physical suffering and people casting lots for clothing, is seen as being fulfilled by his crucifixion.