(my Lenten discipline this year is to write a short devotion, without extra editing or excessive thought, on the coming Sunday's lectionary texts for each of the 40 days. Later I might go through and edit/rewrite, but for now these are first thoughts.)
Psalm 91—a metrical setting
Whoever lives beside the Lord,
sheltering in the Almighty’s shade,
shall say, “my God, in you I trust,
my safety, my defender.”
From unseen danger and disease
God will keep you safe and sure;
beneath God’s wings a place you’ll find,
a refuge from all danger.
You will not dread what darkness brings—
hidden danger, deadly plague;
nor will you fear in daylight hours,
the evil that surrounds.
A thousand may die at your side,
thousands more fall close at hand;
but with God’s truth for strength and shield,
no threat will ever touch you.
God says, “I’ll save from every harm
those who know and love my name.
In trouble I will honor them,
and show them my salvation.”
The metrical setting of Psalm 91, to the old Scottish folk tune Teann a nall, is so beautiful that every time I hear or read the first verses of the psalm, I can’t help but sing the tune. And what a beautiful image, too: sheltering in the Almighty’s shade, a place beneath God’s wings.
The thing is, the psalm, read uncritically, seems to be a big fat lie. Sure, you can rest in the shadow of the Lord, but the reality is that disease, danger, and threats do touch us, even those among us whose faith is so sure and sound that it can’t be shaken, even those whose lives seem perfect, even those who really ground themselves in the Word…danger and disease are part of the human reality.
But Psalm 91 assures us that these things are not the end of the world, that danger and disease do not have the last word. Not even death has the last word, really: God does. Trouble may come, but God will still be around. “in trouble I will honor them and show them my salvation.” What good news tucked in this beautiful Scottish psalm tune.
Almighty God, clothe us with your truth, cover us with your wings, shelter us in your shade, keep us safe and close to you throughout this season. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.