Proper 5, June 5
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God all my life long.
The Psalms are full of contrasts. They sing praise and pain, rejoicing and rejection, devotion and despair, often seemingly in one breath. It can be confusing to read; it goes against all we are taught as communicators. We are supposed to formulate one solid thesis, with ample supporting evidence. We are expected to write, and to preach, with one focused message. (Though if you’re a good traditional Baptist preacher, and then you’re allowed to impart that message using three alliterative points and a poem!) Even as readers, we typically prefer to hear a single unified perspective.
The back-and-forth nature of the Psalms can leave us wondering, and even exhausted! But we can take comfort in the contrasts of the Psalms; they are an honest reflection of real life (which itself can leave us wondering and exhausted!). The Psalms teach us to see hope even while we experience dismay. They speak honestly of anger, even while softening into love.
They recognize the allure of fleeting worldly power, and hold it up against the never-ending faithfulness of God. They tell the truth about mortality, that we all return to the earth, and they remind us that the praise of God lasts for all generations.
They even show us contrasts that we know so well we don’t need to read about them. We already know the world fills its cells with prisoners–but the Psalms tell us God sets them free! We know the world makes the ungodly famous–but the Psalms tell us God knocks down the wicked! We look at our systems, our laws, our reactions to scary events, and we know the world isn’t inclined to bend over backward for strangers, or the hungry, or the family-less–but the Psalms tell us God upholds them! The Psalms show us we worship a God of contrasts. For those who are oppressed, God brings justice! For those who are bent down, God lifts them! In the world of perishing princes, God reigns forever!
The Psalms call us, too, to be a people of contrasts. We know the world is full of harsh, angry, even hateful words–but the Psalms invite us to sing out in joy! And we know this life is fleeting, a breath, a blink–but the Psalms invite us to join our voices to the countless generations of praise!