O God, why have you cast us off for ever? Why rage against the sheep within your fold? Do not forget the people whom you purchased, the heritage which you redeemed of old.
Remember where you dwelt upon Mount Zion, and turn your steps towards these ruined walls— All this destruction which the foe in malice has perpetrated on your sacred halls.
Your enemies have roared in your assembly; their standards fly victorious in the breeze. Their fury was like woodmen wielding axes to cut through undergrowth between the trees.
They smashed to pieces all the fretted woodwork— with axe and hatchet every panelled frame. They burned your holy sanctuary to ashes, and made unclean the place where dwells your Name.
Their thought was, “We will utterly destroy them!” They burned each place of worship in the land. We see no miracles; there are no prophets, and no one knows when all these things will end.
The editors of Sing Psalms recommend the tune Kildonan for this. You can hear a Free Church congregation sing Psalm 12 to the tune Kildonan here.
God’s people are feeling battered and bewildered. The precise historical setting of this Psalm is not clear. But what is clear is that God, their God, has turned against them. Like a wild animal, his nostrils are smoking in rage. Why? The question hangs in the air. Their enemies have gone on the rampage, pulverising their sacred buildings, trashing their sanctuary, hacking to pieces the delicate carved woodwork, burning them to the ground. All that the people hold sacred – gone. And gone with it too is their sense of identity. There are no prophets to tell them where they might have gone wrong, no-one to give them hope for the future. When will this ever end?
The Psalmist’s angst is very real. We recognise how he feels. But more than that, the lament also speaks for us. In times of national emergency when we cannot put our pain into words the Psalm articulates it on our behalf. That is helpful. We realise that experiences that are so frighteningly unfamiliar to us have been endured by others already. They have lived through what is unimaginable and come out the other side.
In terms of our Christian faith, it’s a Good Friday experience. However much we enter imaginatively into the awefulness of the death of Jesus on the Cross, we cannot avoid the fact that the testimony on which we rely comes from witnesses who are already convinced of the reality of a risen Lord. We read the Passion in the light of the Resurrection. So in times of deepest darkness we may have hope.
Ever living and ever loving God, be my guide today through all darkness and perplexity. be my strength in times of testing, and gladden my heart with your peace, through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen
The Rev’d Fleur Houston is a retired minister and member of Macclesfield and Bollington URC