Sunday 15th November Psalm 23
My shepherd will supply my need:
Jehovah is His name;
In pastures fresh He makes me feed,
Beside the living stream.
He brings my wandering spirit back
When I forsake His ways,
And leads me, for His mercy’s sake,
In paths of truth and grace.
When I walk through the shades of death
Thy presence is my stay;
One word of Thy supporting breath
Drives all my fears away.
Thy hand in sight of all my foes,
Doth still my table spread;
My cup with blessings overflows,
Thine oil anoints my head.
The sure provisions of my God
Attend me all my days;
O may Thy house be mine abode,
And all my work be praise!
There would I find a settled rest,
While others go and come;
No more a stranger, nor a guest,
But like a child at home.
You can hear this Psalm here
This, perhaps more than any other Psalm, is likely to have associations for all of us – weddings, funerals, the Vicar of Dibley, fill in your own memories! This particular setting reminds me of the great Carolyn Brock, who programmed it in a concert marking the 250th anniversary of Isaac Watts’ death in 1998. Carolyn was a musician who could make people sing better just by stepping into a room! If you don’t feel up to the full Virgil Thomson, then a simplified harmonisation of the tune Resignation can be found in Common Ground, Church Hymnary 4 etc as a setting for Psalm 63.
In his excellent recent book ‘Living with the Psalms’ (SPCK, 2020), John Bell points out that as well as the image of the Lord as a shepherd, who would typically be male, the Psalmist uses a more female image for God when describing God spreading a table, as that might be a task more usually done by women. This becomes more poignant for me when I consider Isaac Watts’ addition in the closing lines ‘No more a stranger, nor a guest, but like a child at home’. Do we now have God as father and mother, making a home for us, the singers, God’s children?
I write this reflection in mid-July, several months into lockdown, and I for one am hugely missing singing in company with others; singing along to zoom or a podcast just isn’t the same. Being able to sing together once more will be a homecoming of another sort, and I look forward to singing the Psalms in worship again, joining the saints across the ages in using these ancient texts to reflect on our relationship with God.
God our father, God our mother,
We give thanks for the comfort you bring us when times are hard.
We give thanks for the blessings we enjoy, and the guidance you give us when we listen for your voice.
We pray that we may be generous in the comfort we give others, and the blessings we share.
And that all your children may feel at home in your love.