Psalms: joy and woe woven fine

I am working with Celia Kellett at BBC Radio Nottingham on an idea to present most of the books of the Bible, one a week, during 2011 as part of the celebrations of the King James Bible.The plan is to read some verses from the book, to give a one-and-a-half minute summary, to hear a human interest story which relates, and then include a short discussion making the connections.

Here are the key verses and summary for the book of Psalms, to be broadcast this Sunday 27th Mar from around 8.20 am:

Verses: Psalm 23 (to be read over music)
1 The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

The book of Psalms in known as the hymn book of the Bible; many of the 150 psalms in it would have been used for public worship in the temple, and Jesus and his disciples sang them after their last meal together. Today, many hymns and songs take their inspiration from this book—which includes the longest chapter in the Bible, Ps 119, at 176 verses!

Some of the psalms focus on things we might expect to find in worship—celebrations of God’s goodness, rejoicing in the wonders of creation, recollection of his mighty deeds of rescue in years gone by, rededication of ourselves in the light of his goodness.

But there are other, more surprising themes. A recurrent one is that of lament—of grieving that things are not how they should be or could be. Some of this is lament for the world in general; some is the lament of God’s people, who are oppressed and long to see God at work in the world in way they have in past. And some of this is the lament of individuals, who cannot see God’s light in the darkness of their circumstances. It is one of these personal lament psalms we find on the lips of Jesus on the cross: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’. In joy and pain, it is to the psalms that Jesus turns.

The Bible is often described as God’s words to us. But in the psalms we find the converse—words that can become our words to God, not just in the good times, but in all the ups and downs of life as we experience it.

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