In the past few days I found myself going through the Book of Genesis. I must have confess it had always fascinated me, in some ways much more than the New Testament. Part of the reason for this is the dramatic closeness of God's initial presence among his Creation. He appears to the Patriarchs, dwells among them and speaks to them as we speak to one another. He leads them through life personally. Yet, towards the end of the New Testament, God's presence seems to recede somehow into a promise of return at the end of history; not seen anymore but merely felt, known not personally but spiritually. We no longer expect to see God face-to-face during our lifetime, but in the afterlife. Interesting to see how the concept of salvation evolves over time (indeed, there are some liberal theologies that even admit of the possibility of progress in Heaven and evolution in the Godhead).
In this context, Psalm 23 ("God is my Shepherd") has a curious history that I find deeply emblematic. Most of us will know this psalm for its use in funeral services, however, this "tradition" did not come to the English-speaking world until the 20th century, only adopted for that use in 1928 by the Episcopal Church in the United States. In other traditions, this Psalm, taken with Psalms 22 and 24, are seen as a more life-affirming thing, known together as the "Shepherd Psalms", where it is not the sheep, but the Shepherd who lays down his life. He does this, of course, so that the sheep may live. To me, this Psalm is a reminder that, in our quest to ensure our salvation in the future, we are apt to forget that we are, in fact, still alive in the present. To flip Camus's famous epigram on its head, "there is no point in waiting for salvation at the end of time: it arrives every day."
I thought it could be interesting to couple Psalm 23 with Psalm 130 ("I will lift mine eyes"). Had we met in our Sanctuary last Sunday, we would have heard both as part of our regular worship together.The setting of Psalm 23 (for a solo voice) is by Antonin Dvorak (1894), and the setting of Psalm 130 is by Jake Runestad (2015). The piece at the beginning is entitled "The Call" by Ralph Vaughan Williams, from his "Five Mystical Songs" (1906-1911). In the spirit of social distancing, our music ministry will confine itself to making solo recordings, which I will share with you every week. For our choral selections, I will be sharing recordings of noteworthy choirs. Today's recording belongs to "Seraphic Fire".
I hope it adds something to your day!
Please be in touch, my friends, and feel free to share your own Worship moments!