By Annette Brownlee
A Reading from Psalm 119:49-72
49 Remember your word to your servant,
because you have given me hope.
50 This is my comfort in my trouble,
that your promise gives me life.
51 The proud have derided me cruelly,
but I have not turned from your law.
52 When I remember your judgments of old,
O Lord, I take great comfort.
53 I am filled with a burning rage,
because of the wicked who forsake your law.
54 Your statutes have been like songs to me
wherever I have lived as a stranger.
55 I remember your name in the night, O Lord,
and dwell upon your law.
56 This is how it has been with me,
because I have kept your commandments.
57 You only are my portion, O Lord;
I have promised to keep your words.
58 I entreat you with all my heart,
be merciful to me according to your promise.
59 I have considered my ways
and turned my feet toward your decrees.
60 I hasten and do not tarry
to keep your commandments.
61 Though the cords of the wicked entangle me,
I do not forget your law.
62 At midnight I will rise to give you thanks,
because of your righteous judgments.
63 I am a companion of all who fear you
and of those who keep your commandments.
64 The earth, O Lord, is full of your love;
instruct me in your statutes.
65 O Lord, you have dealt graciously with your servant,
according to your word.
66 Teach me discernment and knowledge,
for I have believed in your commandments.
67 Before I was afflicted I went astray,
but now I keep your word.
68 You are good and you bring forth good;
instruct me in your statutes.
69 The proud have smeared me with lies,
but I will keep your commandments with my whole heart.
70 Their heart is gross and fat,
but my delight is in your law.
71 It is good for me that I have been afflicted,
that I might learn your statutes.
72 The law of your mouth is dearer to me
than thousands in gold and silver.
In a first-term class I teach at Wycliffe College, students tell the story of their spiritual journey. It is a bit like Christmas. These students are God’s gifts, and their stories are a chance to unwrap the gifts, so to speak. It is also a reminder of the reach of God’s arms. They have come from so many places, figuratively and literally. As they tell their stories, they look back and see how God was (and is) active in their lives, rousing, guiding, disciplining, teaching, providing, loving, and redeeming.
The psalmist has been afflicted, troubled. In some way we don’t know, the “cords of the wicked entangle” him (v. 61). But we know how the psalmist holds onto hope: by remembering. By remembering God’s actions in the past, given through his Word. He finds comfort remembering God’s judgments of old, and in the night (when he cannot sleep, most likely) he remembers God’s name and dwells on God’s law. And he remembers how he has relied on God in tough times: “Your statutes have been like songs to me wherever I lived as a stranger” (v. 54).
St. Paul writes to Timothy that God cannot be unfaithful to his own Word. “If we are faithless, God remains faithful — he cannot deny himself (2 Tim. 2:13). The psalmist remembers that Word, active in his life, even when the evidence around him seems to deny it. This is the gift of hindsight, looking back and seeing what we could not see in the moment. On the road to Emmaus, the disciples could not recognize the risen Christ. Only at dinner, as he broke bread, could they look back and name what had happened: “Were not our hearts burning within us?” (Luke 24:32).
Looking backward allows us to see God’s hand in a way we cannot in the moment. That is why history is so important. The history of nations and the Church. Our own histories. The psalmist remembers God’s actions, and asks God to remember his Word as well, the Word which is Jesus Christ (v. 49), the Word to which God can never be unfaithful.
The Rev. Dr. Annette Brownlee is chaplain, director of field education, and professor of pastoral theology at Wycliffe College, Toronto. She also assists and preaches at St. Paul’s L’Amoreaux in Scarborough.
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
St. John’s Church, Savannah, Georgia
The Diocese of New Guinea Islands – The Anglican Church of Papua New Guinea