Psalm 89: Words of Lament and of Longing
From a week spent as a guest at New Melleray, the Trappist monastery near Dubuque, Iowa, a few years ago, I can confirm that Benedictine monks, in all their varieties and sub-communities, live and breathe the Psalms In their seven daily prayer gatherings they recite the Psalms according to a schedule, divided into weeks that begin on Sundays with odd-numbered dates and those that begin with even numbers. (See their Psalm schedule at http://newmelleray.org/index.asp?menu=psalms). This stems from ancient Hebrew practices that pre-date the Christian movement and which likely informed the prayer practices of Jesus and his disciples. He and his disciples certainly saw himself as “the Righteous One” and the “Son of David” prefigured and prayed-for in so many psalms. Were this not so, then so many of the prayers in the psalms are left hanging, unfulfilled.
Chief among these otherwise unfulfilled prayers is Psalm 89, which is in my lectionary Scripture schedule for today, and which often gets top billing during the Advent season. Its not hard to tell why. Consider the prayers and the promises in the following verses:
24 My faithful love will be with him,
and through my name his horn [d] will be exalted.
Case closed? The following words from the same Psalm lament the obvious and inescapable lesson of twenty-six hundred years-plus- of exile, foreign occupation and the diaspora, in which there was no Son of David on the throne, nor can there now be one:
48 What man can live and not see death,
or save himself from the power of the grave [e] ?
The rule of brutality, corruption and exploitation in the world make of this psalm a universal lament and prayer for a reign of justice, mercy and compassion. The Christian dares to assert that this prayer is being fulfilled in surprising and breath-taking ways through Jesus the Crucified, about whom it can be said:
41 All who pass by have plundered him;
he has become the scorn of his neighbors.
45 You have cut short the days of his youth;
you have covered him with a mantle of shame.
It is equally surprising, a breath-taking twist of events, in the way in which the following promise was also fulfilled for the resurrected Jesus, the Son of David:
23 I will crush his foes before him
and strike down his adversaries.
One surprise is in the way in which this promise was fulfilled peacefully, non-violently, when Jesus overcame death and left his tomb very much alive. Life conquered death without the use of death-dealing weapons, simply by the power of God’s gift of love and life.
These are some of the reasons why I love the Psalms. They constitute the miracle of our words to God made God’s Word to us, so that in them we understand both God and ourselves more clearly. They were the prayers of Jesus. They are our prayers about Jesus. And we can pray them believing that they are the prayers which God has answered in giving us Jesus, and which God will answer in full when Jesus returns. They are the prayers by which history is moving forward.