Cast your burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain you; he never will suffer the righteous to fall: he is at your right hand. Your mercy, Lord, is great and far above the heavens: let none by made ashamed that wait upon you.
These words are not a direct quotation from Psalm 55 as written in our Bibles (whichever version). They are taken from William Bartholomew’s libretto for Mendelssohn’s oratorio Elijah. The first four lines are indeed verse 22, but the remainder draw on Psalms 16.8, 108.5 and 25.3 and together constitute a great assurance of comfort in God.
Verse 22 sings out like a ray of hope in a cry of despair, of betrayal, of treachery: a reminder that no-one sinks so low into the slough of despond that God’s hand of solace is not held out; no situation is outside God’s support.
Perhaps it is unfortunate that sometimes the words “Cast your burden” are held out simplistically to some young in the faith as a sort of magic bullet that will remove all hurt, trouble and difficulties. “It will all go away!” When it does not and trouble strikes, as it does, faith can be shaken. God does not insulate but gives a strength which bolsters us to face up to troubles, to save us in the time of trial, not from but in. The Psalmist clearly understands this even though betrayed by one who was trusted.
As I write, we in England stand at the threshold of a significant loosening of the burdens of lockdown, with hospitality – commercial, individual and in our churches – opening up. Some will embrace this wholeheartedly. Some will be apprehensive. We do not know what the effect will be on us and on others. We have to put our trust in those who have weighed the evidence and reached the conclusion that it is safe to proceed. We have to trust that others will behave responsibly. We can trust that God will sustain us and will not allow us to fall or to be ashamed.
‘But all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well,’ (Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love)
Stay with us, God, as longed-for peace eludes us; when no good comes and faithless hope deludes us, when terror reigns and grief is unconfined.
Stay with us, God, through torment and upheaval, bring us with Christ through grief and disillusion defeat despair with your persistent grace.
Yet grant no easy answer, no conclusion Work out in us your love’s determination to forge creation’s joy from wretchedness.
(Drawn from Rejoice and Sing No 338 by Alan Gaunt)
The Rev’d Ron Reid is a retired minister in the Mersey Synod serving as Link Minister at Rock Chapel, Farndon. He is a member at Upton-by-Chester URC