Reflecting on the Psalms: The whole of nature has to make way for the coming of God

Our lives alternate with happiness, sadness and other emotions in tandem with different events that affect us or those close to us.

Jul 17, 2021

By Msgr James Gnanapiragasam
Our lives alternate with happiness, sadness and other emotions in tandem with different events that affect us or those close to us. Sometimes these feelings can happen when we hear of certain events that reach us through the media. We react in different ways according to our faith and upbringing.

People have often expressed their feelings in song. We sing with joy when we are happy, when something good has happened in our lives. This can be personal, or it can be something that has occurred to members of our family or friends. However, this does not mean that feelings of sorrow cannot be expressed in song as well. The endless number of lyrics and tunes, from earliest times till the present, speak eloquently of this enduring phenomenon in our lives.

While soloists can be applauded for their beautiful rendition of their favourite songs, what is even more joyous is when festivals evoke singing from a group of participants. When the congregation sings together joyfully and harmoniously, the celebration reaches an intensity that enhances and inspires participation. The Psalms in the Bible are not just personal songs. They are liturgical hymns meant to praise and thank the Lord or beg his supplication. They express joy for what the Lord has done and is still doing, just as they petition in earnest to be saved from some evil.

What seems to stand out in the Psalms is the remembrance of what the Lord has done for the people in the past. The psalter is the memory of a people of the great deeds their ancestors had experienced. The Lord had delivered them from the hands of evil men. He had protected them when disaster threatened. When the people sing the Psalms now in the liturgy, they try to ‘re-present’ Yahweh’s deeds in the past and make them present once again. Festivals are not just repetitions of remembering past events but a movement towards the future, a continuation of the journey that the ancestors had begun.

Psalms of Praise to the Creator and Saviour (1) Ps 113A (114) DO (Everyday Prayer) Week 1 Sunday Evening Prayer page 398 (Also found in pages 212, 298,307).

This is a hymn which recalls the conquest at the Exodus, the greatest liberating event in the history of Israel, when Israel becomes a people. The hymn begins directly with the objective of praising God. It was a liberation from an alien Egyptian people who had oppressed them. The people had come unto their own and Yahweh had planted his presence among them as his temple.

The whole of nature cooperated in this saving event as the poet goes on to give metaphorical images to this liberation. The Red Sea fled to let the people pass through, the river Jordan retreated to let the Hebrews under Joshua march on to reach Jericho (Jos 3:14-17). Mountains and hills leaping like rams and year-old sheep might be an allusion to the tremendous Sinai theophany when God descended on the mountains to make a covenant with Moses and the people, (Ex 19:16ff). The third paragraph (Verses 5-6) invites the person who prays to meditate on ‘Why’ this happened. And the response comes in the last paragraph (Verses 7-8): the whole of nature has to make way for the coming of Yahweh, the God of Jacob or Israel. He has shown his power in producing water from rock, (Ex 17). The psalmist recalls Yahweh’s love for his people in recapitulating this history.

This Psalm was sung at the Passover liturgy of Israel. Jesus must have prayed this Psalm praising God, his Father for the liberation of his people from slavery. He must have prayed contemplating his own Exodus, his Passion and Death, by which he was to save the people. When Moses and Elijah appeared when he was transfigured on the mountain, they spoke to him of his Exodus, (Lk 9:30-31).

On Sundays and in the feasts of Easter, Pentecost, and the Blessed Trinity (see page references above), the Christian community is reminded to continue this pilgrimage to the Promised Land with faith and hope in the Paschal Mystery. We are invited to contemplate Christ’s victory and the source of living water amidst our pains and struggles.

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