O great God and Lord of all the earth, rouse yourself and demonstrate justice; give the arrogant what they deserve, silence all malevolent boasting. See how some you love are broken, for they know the weight of oppression; even widows and orphans are murdered, and poor strangers are innocent victims.
Those who crush your people delight, claiming God above takes no notice; they proclaim that heaven is blind, that the God of Jacob is silent. Stupid fools, when will you listen? Now take heed, you ignorant people. God who gave us sight and hearing has observed and noted what happened.
God the Lord will not stay away nor forsake his well beloved people; heaven’s justice soon will appear and the pure in heart will embrace it. Yes, the ones whom God instructed, who revere and study God’s Word will be saved from all that harms them while a pit is dug for the wicked.
Should the wrong change places with right and the courts play host to corruption; should the innocent fear for their lives while the guilty smile at their scheming; still the Lord will be your refuge, be your strength and courage and tower. Though your foot should verge on slipping, God will cherish, keep and protect you.
Today we weave three themes together: John Bell’s sensitive paraphrasing of Psalm 94, its deliberate pairing with Cuella’s haunting tune, and Pentecost.
The opening stanza evokes images of women and children being bombed in Ukraine, babies and elderly killed, and the memorial to Jews murdered by the Nazis being descrated by Putin’s forces. Bell senstively brings out the cry of the Psalmist urging God to act as those whom God loves are being harmed. Bell keeps up the punch with the second stanza showing how those who crush God’s people delight and think Heaven is blind to their crimes. I couldn’t read this without thinking of Patriarch Kirill who has, thus far, supported the war – sharing an ideology with his master in the Kremlin. Despite the anger and rawness of the Psalm we still have hope – hope that God will act, hope that even if the courts don’t intervene, even if the guilty smile at their scheming that God will cherish, keep and protect the faithful.
The tune was written as part of a 1970s mass setting written at the request of St Oscar Romero when he was Archbishop of San Salvador. Romero, appointed as a conservative force in the Church, was moved by the sufferings of his people at the hands of an evil, corrupt, and Western supported government. He soon became a radical supporter of liberation. He was, for his pains, shot whilst celebrating mass in his cathedral. The simple tune works well with Bell’s rendering of the Psalm.
So, on this Day of Pentecost, when we celebrate the birth of the Church, the energising presence of the Holy Spirit, we pray for all who are crushed under oppression, who wait for God to hear their case and vindicate them and remind ourselves that the same Spirit who gave birth to the Church calls, inspires and energises us to work for justice so God’s people might be free.
Rise up O God, forget not your suffering people, bowed down with murderous rage, crying out for liberation from invasion. Rise up your people O God, inspire us by your Spirit, that we may not be silent but rage for your Kingdom to come. Amen.
The Rev’d Andy Braunston is the URC’s Minister for Digital Worship. He is a member of the Peedie Kirk URC in Orkney.