Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered;
let those who hate him flee before him.
As smoke is driven away, so drive them away;
as wax melts before the fire, let the wicked perish before God.
But let the righteous be joyful; let them exult before God;
let them be jubilant with joy.
Sing to God, sing praises to his name;
lift up a song to him who rides upon the clouds —
his name is the Lord —be exultant before him.
Father of orphans and protector of widows
is God in his holy habitation.
God gives the desolate a home to live in;
he leads out the prisoners to prosperity,
but the rebellious live in a parched land…
Rain in abundance, O God, you showered abroad;
you restored your heritage when it languished;
your flock found a dwelling in it;
in your goodness, O God, you provided for the needy…
Your solemn processions are seen, O God,
the processions of my God, my King, into the sanctuary—
the singers in front, the musicians last,
between them girls playing tambourines:
“Bless God in the great congregation,
the Lord, O you who are of Israel’s fountain!”…
O rider in the heavens, the ancient heavens;
listen, he sends out his voice, his mighty voice.
Ascribe power to God, whose majesty is over Israel;
and whose power is in the skies.
Awesome is God in his sanctuary, the God of Israel;
he gives power and strength to his people.
Blessed be God!
Reflection – This beautiful psalm is associated with Easter in the Eastern churches, and with the feast of the Ascension in the Western church. It is a lengthy psalm--I am giving less than half of it here-- full of picturesque imagery and exultant repetitive praises.
It is a psalm of God’s triumph, simply. The Lord rising up, riding in the clouds, processing into the sanctuary, the jubilant people of God surrounding Him with their tambourines and music. It is a psalm celebrating the fact that, no matter what is going on, no matter how bleak and dreadful a situation is, no matter what evils are flourishing in our times and in our own personal lives, in the end God will be victorious.
This is so important for us. We can argue about how much of it our perception is due to media spin focusing on all the negative stories (if it bleeds, it leads, is the old journalistic adage). But even if that is so, there is no question that we live in a world haunted by demons and awash in blood. There is a terrible pessimism afoot in the world today, rightly or wrongly.
And so, ‘let God arise, let his enemies be scattered, like wax that melts before the fire, so the wicked will perish before the presence of God.’ God wins, in the end. God is more powerful, and the forces of evil ultimately are doomed. This is basic faith and Psalm 68 is our great acclamation of that faith.
‘Triumphalism’ can have a bad taste in some mouths. It can sound like smugness or vengefulness against those who are ‘on the other side’ dressed up in a pious cloak. But we have to move beyond that kind of narrow tribalistic triumphalism. The God who is victorious is the God who loves the poor and makes a home for them. He is the father of orphans and the protector of widows. He is on the side of the most vulnerable and hurting, the weakest and lamest of this world.
In other words, the God whose ultimate triumph we celebrate in this psalm is really good. And of course this God bids us to that same goodness, that same compassionate care for the poor and the weak and those is dire need, to make a home for them in our hearts and even in our own homes if we can.
Acclaiming the triumph of this God is not a pretext for smug arrogance (‘just you wait, you jerks! You’ll be sorry you don’t go to church!’), but a call to radical charity and justice, a call to serve the cause of this God who has made his intentions and his attitude towards humanity very clear—merciful love, tender care, humble service. Let us imitate Him in these matters, and so hope to have a share in His ultimate victory in the world.