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The other day I read a news story about the war in Ukraine which happened to mention that some Ukrainian and indeed Russian soldiers carry the text of Psalm 91 tucked into their army fatigues. According to that great academic reference, Wikipedia, the psalm is often called the ‘soldier’s psalm’ because it is a prayer for protection from persecution, pestilence, or death; Western monasticism included it as part of the night office of compline, for similar reasons. The use of Psalm 91 as a form of talisman got me thinking about how psalms convey or respond to our innermost needs, emotions, and desires.
For example, the people of Israel, fleeing slavery and persecution in Egypt, used psalms to express their longing for safety and security. Since I am currently on placement at a cathedral where fluffy-feathered peregrine falcons are nesting I couldn’t help but be reminded of Psalm 114 – ‘When Israel came out of Egypt’ – which is traditionally sung to the plainchant known as tonus peregrinus: the so-called ‘wandering tone’. Psalm 114 (which is often used at the Easter vigil) speaks of the joy experienced by the Israelites after their safe delivery from the army of Pharaoh, whose chariots were swept away in the waters of the Red Sea. It is a song of thanksgiving for God’s salvation and the promise of new life.
This Sunday marks the beginning not only of my last week at the cathedral but the start of Holy Week – that great week where the Church recalls the final events of Christ’s earthly life and looks forward to the exuberant celebration of his resurrection at Easter. It has been wonderful to journey through Lent with the cathedral community, to get to know many of the people who make this place come alive, and to share in worship and work. And as I draw to a close my Lenten wanderings with you all and enter into Holy Week I begin to feel something akin to what the Israelites might have felt as they put behind them the struggles, hardship, and sadness of leaving behind all that they had known in Egypt; they were full of hope and optimism for their new lives born in the waters of the Red Sea, despite the years of wandering in the wilderness that lay ahead of them. I will miss being part of the cathedral community, but the experiences and conversations and – above all – laughter in this place have filled me with a joy that I will carry into my future ministry.
As we enter Holy Week, I will be praying again Psalm 114; perhaps you will join me in offering up this song of thanksgiving to God for the abundant new life he has given us through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
May God richly bless you.
Curate on placement at the cathedral
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