O LORD, I will exalt your name for you have rescued me; You did not let my foes rejoice and gloat triumphantly.
LORD God, in need I cried to you and you restored my health. O LORD, you brought me from the grave and saved my soul from death.
You holy ones, sing to the LORD; sing out with joyful voice. When you recall his holy name, then praise him and rejoice.
His anger but a moment lasts; life-long his favour stays. Though tears may last throughout the night, joy comes with morning’s rays.
“I never shall be moved,” I said in my prosperity. You made my mountain firm and strong when you, LORD, favoured me.
But when you hid your face from me my heart was terrified. To you, O LORD, I called aloud; for mercy, Lord, I cried.
What gain will my destruction bring if I descend to death? Will dust proclaim your faithfulness or praise you with its breath?
Hear as I cry, O LORD my God, and listen to my plea. Come to my aid in my distress; have mercy, LORD, on me.
You turned my wailing into dance; no longer was I sad. My sackcloth gone, you gave me clothes of joy, and I was glad.
Therefore my heart will sing to you and never cease to praise; To your great name, O LORD my God, I will give thanks always.
You can hear a Free Church of Scotland congregation sing this to the tune St Andrewhere.
The middle of January is rarely the most positive time of the year, with short days and dark evenings, post-Christmas credit card bills looming and New Year resolutions left behind. Yet the Psalm today calls us to give thanks to the God whose loving favour is ‘life-long.’
For the Psalmist the cause of thanks is God’s rescue from a grave life threatening illness. Death has been defied, the grave robbed, health restored and the Psalmist extols the Lord God who turns wailing into dancing.
The Psalm begins and ends with praise but at its centre is a powerful description of what Brueggemann describes as the experience of disorientation. All had been well, life was good and the Psalmist congratulates himself on his prosperity and sense of security. Just when he feels himself immovable the grounds falls from under him. Suddenly everything is threatened. Human mortality and fragility is exposed: ‘You hid your face from me, my heart was terrified.’ The darkness draws close – a darkness not only of death but the absence of God and the denial of faithfulness and love.
We may not experience such a dramatic fall or recovery but this Psalm helps in the struggles of life and faith; those moments when we are shaken to the core with what has happened to us or to those we love. It helps us to respond to those times when God ‘hides his face’. First it reminds us that we are not God – we are not the mountain strong and firm, God is. Then it encourages us to hold onto God’s faithfulness and graciousness – the God who is there as our helper and Lord. More than that, it helps us know that, in God’s time, mourning will be turned into dancing, God will clothe us with joy. Finally we must not be silenced by life, but give and make space for thanks and praise to our God, come what may.
God of tender mercy and gracious joy, hold in your loving care those who face death today, those who feel that your face is hidden from them and those in the midst of disease and distress. Bring them hope in the midst of their pain, peace in the midst of conflict hope in the midst of despair. God, our God, lead us to that point and place of grateful praise, where our hearts may sing of the life you give us and the new life you open to us in Jesus Christ. Amen
The Rev’d Terry Hinks, minister of Trinity, High Wycombe and Cores End Churches.