Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul! I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God all my life long. Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help. When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish. Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith for ever; who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin. The Lord will reign for ever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the Lord!
My Old Testament tutor in Birmingham University, John Eaton, believed that many of the Psalms were written for liturgical use in the Temple in Jerusalem. These were services where the King of Israel would be present, most especially a kind of annual rededication ceremony.
This interpretation of the Psalms has not found universal favour, but it is interesting to read this Psalm as if it were true. Just imagine the king sitting there in all his pomp and glory and hearing – or perhaps even himself chanting – “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.” I wonder how many contemporary world leaders would be willing to subject themselves to such a ceremony even once, never mind annually?
I have been once in my ministry a Mayor’s Chaplain in a local authority. Part of the duty of such a chaplain is to attend a banquet put on by the mayor to which the mayors and leaders of neighbouring authorities, the High Sheriff and Lord Lieutenant and other such dignitaries are invited. I was put on the top table and asked to say grace. The prayer, which we shall use today ourselves, was for all those employed by the local authority who provided food and drink for those citizens who really needed it. I said the prayer and after the Amen there was a deathly silence. These powerful people, being treated to free food and wine at the taxpayers’ expense, did not wish to be reminded of such people at that moment. It took a while – and the consumption of the first bottle or two of wine – for anyone on my table to speak to me. I have not been asked to be Mayor’s Chaplain since.
Loving God, who gives food to the hungry, as we eat and drink today, we pray for those serving and eating meals on wheels, school breakfasts and lunches, for our elderly and disabled neighbours eating meals in day centres and residential homes, and those at food banks throughout our area. May we never forget our responsibility to all those who today rely on public service and on private charity for their food and drink. Amen.
The Rev’d Gethin Rhys is Policy Officer for Cytun (Churches Together in Wales) and a member of Parkminster URC, Cardiff.