Psalm 62:1-8 ∙ Rollins Chapel ∙ Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire ∙ April 28, 2011
Guest Speaker - Madelyn Betz. Curate, St. Thomas Episcopal Church.
This first week after Easter is the perfect time to be talking about hope. As Christians, resurrection hope is the foundation of our faith. And yet, on any given day, most of us find ourselves somewhere on a continuum of belief about the resurrection, and where we find our belief affects the strength of our hope for what is to come.
The author Frederick Beuchner talks about hope in terms of believing in the possibility of a miracle. This hope is as beautiful and full of possibility as it is fragile. Our most extravagant hope exposes our vulnerability when nothing like what we expect to happen happens. When we set our heart on anything yet to come, we put ourselves at an intersection of limit and opportunity. When our heart is set on a miracle that doesn’t happen, something other than what we expect does happen. Beuchner suggests that that is the place of real hope—that there may be a glimmer of grace in that moment of the unexpected; we may just find ourselves in the presence of the holy when we are surprised beyond what we have imagined.
Tempting as is today to take the topic of hope in the direction of the resurrection, I must be honest and tell you that when I am most in need of hope—that is, when things aren’t going so well in my own life, when people I know are in trouble, dealing with serious illness, disappointments or grief—I don’t take time out to contemplate the resurrection and the possibilities of the unexpected. They are connected though to the place where I do turn most often for hope and that is the Book of Psalms.
The Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer contains a version of the Psalms, translated into English by Myles Coverdale with one eye toward orthodoxy and another toward beauty and rhythm of language. Psalms are an important part of our worship, both privately and publicly. The Episcopal Church’s worship intentionally represents a circle of unity—we are united with one another by voice and gesture in corporate worship as the body of Christ; we are united with God in the sacraments; and the worship and sacraments give us strength to go out into the world, serving others as the hands and feet of Christ.
Part of the particular allure of the Psalms is that they have been part of corporate worship for millennia—not just centuries, but millennia. Some of the Psalms were written as many as three thousand years ago. For three thousand years, people have united their voices as one by the words of the Psalms to express in worship their thoughts and feelings to God.Every kind of emotion is expressed in the Psalms—from the most dark and violent to the most tender. This is what makes them a genuine expression of humanity in our seeking to understand our relationship to God and our relationship to one another in light of our relationship to God, an expression as true and real today as they have been through the ages. The range of human emotion as expressed and recorded in the Psalms has not changed much in those three thousand years.
The Psalmists cry out in despair, in grief, in anger, and they keep coming back to the sustaining presence of God as their Rock and their Refuge. After all these years, the Psalms still serve as reminders that things happen to us in life; things that we can’t possibly expect or even understand. And when those things do happen, God will be there. And that is what hope means to me.
The Episcopal Church’s Prayer Book was conceived on a Benedictine framework that includes four daily prayer services. The cycle of Bible readings for these daily services includes several Psalms each day, and one finds that by regularly following the daily order, Psalms easily become part of the rhythm of daily life. Even in private observance, the words of the Psalms resonate through the years as we join our heart and mind and voice with all those who have said those words before.
When we read the Psalms corporately, as we did a few moments ago, we unite our voices in the present as one voice. Rather than as several gathered individuals reading out loud at the same time and at our own pace, we yield our own individual inclinations in favor of a true choral reading. Our very reading of the Psalms then becomes a sign of the kingdom of God—an outward and audible expression of our one-ness in God. Again, a sign of hope.
On any given day, you may not feel within yourself the emotion of the appointed Psalm. But the point is that perhaps someone else does. And by reading together, as one voice, we embody our unity and support of one another. The corporate reading of the Psalms unites our hearts, our minds and our voices and presents us as one body to God in worship.
Hope is mentioned directly only some twenty times in the one hundred fifty Psalms but it is always clear that the Psalmists’ hope in God is a rock-solid foundation and it is a foundation that can withstand surprise. God is honored in the Psalms over and over again as Creator God and by bringing the Psalms forward into the present, they serve as a reminder that God is creating still. We read in Psalm 62 “…from God comes my salvation.” It is stated as a fact, but also as a hope to hold on to—that God is still at work and at work in me.Over the years, the value, if you will, of regular reading and reflection on the Psalms has been for me an increase in my faith. The words seep into my day and come to me unbidden. “Wait patiently for the Lord” [Psalm 27:18]. “The Lord is my Rock and my salvation” [Psalm 62:2]; “of whom shall I be afraid.” [Psalm 27:1] “God sends forth his steadfast love and his faithfulness.” [Psalm 57:3]
Faithfulness is a bit of a mystery and a marvel. It has a value in and of itself that I have experienced in the faithful reading and contemplation of the Psalms. I experience God’s love by the bridge between people that the Psalms represent. Faithful love builds up the one to whom we are faithful, expressing our hope in them. It is a grace, a gift: not so much what we do for God as what God does for us in our faithfulness. God’s gift is God’s faithfulness to us, building us up by his steadfast love. God hopes in us, and we find that hope is the fruit of our faithfulness.
I believe that the Bible is sacred text and that God speaks through it still. The writers of the Psalms were real people who had problems with one another and who tried to understand where God was in the midst of their lives. They bared their souls with every emotion and sought to regain their equilibrium by waiting for God’s presence, by listening for God’s word to them.
I find hope in the silence of praying the words of the Psalms. Walking in the path of the writers and the readers of Psalms throughout the millennia, I find my faith strengthened and that indeed life, not death, is God’s final word. Amen.