Thirty years ago, my spiritual director taught me to pray the psalms. The psalms teach us to pray and bring the truth of our lives to God, including the emotions and habits we would prefer to ignore. Praying the psalms gives us words when we cannot find them on our own. The psalms also teach us about the One to whom we pray and who expects us to need to pray these words at different times in our lives.
Today’s psalm is one of the Songs of Ascent the pilgrims prayed as they traveled to Jerusalem for the high holy days. In the Christian tradition, we pray this psalm during Advent and Lent and often at Thanksgiving.
The Bible translation you use when you pray this psalm will shape your prayer. The challenge comes in determining the verb tense of the psalm. Some translate all the verses in the past tense, making the psalm a prayer of thanksgiving. Others translate all the verses in the future tense, making the psalm a prayer for help. Still others split the difference by translating verses 1-3 in the past tense and verses 4-6 in the future tense; this results in remembering God’s past acts of salvation and requesting help from God now.
Perhaps this very ambiguity or flexibility among the translations is God’s gift, as it encourages us to pray this psalm in different ways depending on the situation. During Advent and Lent, it is a psalm of praise as we ponder anew the humble birth, violent death, and resurrection of Jesus. Other times, it is more appropriately a prayer of praise and a plea for help.
As we continue our approach to Holy Week, perhaps praying this psalm will give voice to the cries of our hearts.
O God, thank you for the gift of the psalms. I take comfort in praying the words that your people have found so helpful. Amen.
The Isaiah text portrays the redemptive activity of God that is about to be introduced into Israel’s life. All paradigms lie shattered before the immensity of God’s grace! The joy of Psalm 126 is occasioned by the memory of God’s act of redemption in the past and also by the anticipation that a similar intervention is imminent. Paul’s autobiographical sketch directed to the Philippians confesses the change that has come into his life as a result of “knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” The story of Mary’s anointing of Jesus’ feet must be read in the context of Jesus’ looming passion. Jesus sets Mary’s actions in their proper perspective by linking them to his own death, even as he deflects Judas’s counterfeit compassion.
Read Isaiah 43:16-21. How do you respond to this God who insists on doing new things for the sake of the people?
Read Psalm 126. Pray this psalm three times: (1) pray all the verbs in the past tense in thanksgiving; (2) pray all the verbs in the future tense as a prayer for help; (3) pray verses 1-3 in the past tense, verses 5-6 in the future tense. Which was hardest to pray?
Read Philippians 3:4b-14. What props or credentials do you need to let go of?
Read John 12:1-8. What motivations does your discipleship reflect?
Respond by posting a prayer.
I join many of those who will pray for you as you seek to discern what you are called to be at this moment. May God grant you the courage to fulfill that calling. May we all open our eyes and see the misery, open our ears and hear the cries of God’s people, and, like God through the Lord Jesus Christ, be incarnate amongst them.”
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