O Lord, in your strength the king rejoices,
and in your salvation how greatly he exults!
You have given him his heart's desire
and have not withheld the request of his lips.
For you meet him with rich blessings;
you set a crown of fine gold upon his head.
He asked life of you; you gave it to him,
length of days forever and ever.
His glory is great through your salvation;
splendor and majesty you bestow on him.
For you make him most blessed forever;
you make him glad with the joy of your presence.
For the king trusts in the Lord,
and through the steadfast love of the Most High he shall not be moved.
Your hand will find out all your enemies;
your right hand will find out those who hate you…
Be exalted, O Lord, in your strength!
We will sing and praise your power.
Psalm 21: 1-7, 13
Reflection – Today’s instalment in the Monday Psalter may leave us initially a bit flat, a bit unsure what this has to do with us. Most of us are not kings. Most of us are not in battles, at least not the literal kind. Most of us have at best seen a crown of fine gold in a museum, and are not likely to have one set on our heads any time soon.
All this does remind us that the psalms are prayers from a very long time ago (this one undoubtedly dates back to David or Solomon), products of a very different world that may not immediately apply to us. How are we to pray this psalm and make it our own?
Of course our first connection is to go through David and Solomon to Christ. Any ‘king’ reference in the Old Testament should recall to us that we do have a king, that his kingdom is eternal, and that we are his subjects. And this king, in this psalm, is utterly victorious—the verses I omitted for space reasons are all about the total overthrow and humiliation of his enemies, their complete confounding. This is for us supremely a psalm of the resurrection, of the ascension, of the second coming.
But this leads us to a meditation on the nature of his victory, and the nature of ‘victory’ in general. In the original reading of the psalm, there is no question that it is an actual physical battle that is being celebrated, with swords and arrows and shields and all the works of war. The ancient world was a war-like place, violent and brutal—pacifism did not present itself as an option.
Well, without belabouring a rather obvious point to anyone not living under a rock this past week, we still live in a world of violence, where at least some portion of humanity considers the only victory possible to be the slaughtering of its enemies and the taking of vengeance against those who offend it.
This psalm, because we as Christians can only pray it as a meditation on Christ’s victory, invites us to contemplate the ‘battle plan’ of our saviour, the way in which he won the victory which we do believe has been won definitively. It is not by the sword, or the rocket launcher, or the fighter plane, that victory is won in this world—the real victory, the victory over sin and death and hatred and fear.
Christ won the victory by suffering love, by obedience to his Father and by infinite compassion for all human beings, even and perhaps especially those howling for his death. ‘Crucify Him! Crucify Him!.. Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’
As we pass through these difficult days—and I fear there will be more violence, more terror before we are through them—we who are Christians must hold fast to the victory of Christ and how it was won. Love is stronger than death; light is stronger than darkness; Christ is risen from the dead, and the path to that resurrection and life is the path he laid down for us, of humble love and service, of forgiveness and mercy.