Psalm 34 - He keeps all their bones

The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their cry.
The face of the Lord is against evildoers, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.
When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears, and rescues them from all their troubles.
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit.
Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord rescues them from them all.
He keeps all their bones; not one of them will be broken.
Evil brings death to the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
The Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.
Psalm 34 (NRSV)
Proper 14, Year B, verses 1-8, Sunday between August 7 and August 13
Proper 15, Year B, verses 9-14, Sunday between August 14 and August 20
Proper 16, Year B, verses 15-22, Sunday between August 21 and August 28
Proper 25, Year B, verses 1-8, (19-22), Sunday between October 23 and October 29
All Saints, Year A, verse 1-10, 22, Sunday November 1, or the 1st Sunday in November

For reasons unknown to me, this psalm is broken up into three sections for reading in church worship services on three Sundays in August, once every three years. These verses are the last section and build upon the previous verses. The first section is focused on praise of the Lord, and the second on the connection between doing right and being well.

But here is where the psalm gets real in declaring that the Lord is active in support of those who call on the Lord. God stands against evildoers, and with the righteous.

In times of trouble, this may be in doubt. When you are in distress, the help you need and want might not be available or visible. Evil may seem to have the upper hand, and the people doing harm are profiting, taking pleasure in their power over others and their conquests.

The psalm does not deny or sugarcoat the real experience of suffering. "Many are the afflictions of the righteous…" And the psalm asserts that God takes sides. Especially, the Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit. The Lord rescues them from all afflictions.

That is a statement of faith. It takes faith to speak that in the face of a reality which has not yet delivered on the promise. And it takes faithfulness from God to back it up.

For me the most evocative statement is that, for those who love and follow him, the Lord keeps all their bones. Now, this line was picked up by the early followers of Jesus as prophecy about him. But take it at face value. It can be heard as a poetic statement that God has got your back, and just as God knit your bones together in the womb, God is still keeping watch over every part of your life.

It could also give a hint that the resolution might not be on this side of the grave.

I remember the care NYC firefighters and construction workers and the Medical Examiner’s office took with the bones and bits of flesh tenderly removed from the pile and pit at the World Trade Center. Keeping the bones... It is also a final act of respect, care, and love, to hallow the physical remains and keep the person's story, awaiting God's resolution.

We hope and pray that the psalm is right. In faith we know it is true, even as we pray for it to be made real, to be made known, to experience that restoration to wholeness and security in God’s goodness. "The Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned."

Uncredited photo, Excavated skeleton, circa 1700, Smithfield, Dublin, Ireland. Labelled as having no usage restriction.


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