By Ed Twedt
Reading recently about the history of Lent, it appears that there is no agreement among scholars about the exact origin and development of Lent, but there is agreement about what it means to us today. It is a time of fasting, reflection on who and what we are and getting ourselves more in touch with the kingdom, and a time of increased attention to Christian charity. Perhaps most of all it’s a time for us to be reminded of our relationship with God and the possibility of allowing God to enhance that relationship.
The psalmist gives us some insights into our relationship with God and what God has done for us and will continue to do. But we need to listen to God’s voice in this beautiful psalm to catch the nuances and depth of God’s love for us, and to understand how much God cares for us as we make our way through this Lenten season. There is a beauty and lilting rhythm in the Hebrew poetry of this psalm which is hard to miss, even in the English translation. A great deal of this beauty is found in the psalm’s repetitive nature. But if one only pays attention to these first 16 verses it is easy to miss the power and beauty which is found when one sees the Psalm in its complete form. For instance the personal name of God (translated as LORD) appears twelve times throughout the entire Psalm. There are only two other references to God in the entire Psalm. In verse 17 we read of “the words of God”, and “the counsel of the Most High.” Clearly the author wants to focus on the personal relation of God to God’s people.
The Psalm opens by asking us to give thanks to the LORD (the personal name of God) and reminds us that God’s steadfast love endures forever. This theme is repeated four times in 4 identical verses beginning in verse 8, “Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind.” This verse is repeated verbatim in verses 15, 21 and 31. Even in its English translation, the rhythm of this gripping poetry is hard to miss.
But lest we miss the power of these verses, the psalmist intersperses these beautiful verses with four reminders of what God has actually done for God’s people. In verse 6, speaking of “the redeemed of the LORD”, the psalmist tells us, “Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.” This verse is repeated almost verbatim three more times, in verses 13, 19 and 28. The only difference is the verb used to convey what God has done. In verse 6 God “delivered”, in verses 13 and 19 God “saved” and in verse 28 God ”brought them out from their distress.”
So what the psalmist does is to remind us, the redeemed of the LORD”, of what God has done for humankind, and then reminds us, more specifically what God has done in response to our cries for help. And then there is the great finale of the Psalm which exhorts us, “Let those who are wise give heed to these things and consider the steadfast love of the LORD.” And that brings us right back to the Psalm’s opening reference to God’s steadfast love. It is in that steadfast love that we are called to walk with God during this Lenten season.