Psalm 116 - I pray, save my life!

Verses 1-2: I love the Lord, because he has heard
my voice and my supplications.
Because he inclined his ear to me,
therefore I will call on him as long as I live.


Verses 3-11: [The snares of death encompassed me;
the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;
I suffered distress and anguish.
Then I called on the name of the Lord:
“O Lord, I pray, save my life!”
Gracious is the Lord, and righteous;
our God is merciful.
The Lord protects the simple;
when I was brought low, he saved me.
Return, O my soul, to your rest,
for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.
For you have delivered my soul from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling.
I walk before the Lord
in the land of the living.
I kept my faith, even when I said,
“I am greatly afflicted”;
I said in my consternation,
“Everyone is a liar.”]

Verses 12-19: What shall I return to the Lord
for all his bounty to me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation
and call on the name of the Lord,
I will pay my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people.
Precious in the sight of the Lord
is the death of his faithful ones.
O Lord, I am your servant;
I am your servant, the child of your serving girl.
You have loosed my bonds.
I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice
and call on the name of the Lord.
I will pay my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people,
in the courts of the house of the Lord,
in your midst, O Jerusalem.
Praise the Lord!
Psalm 116 (NRSV)
Maundy Thursday, verses 1-2, 12-19
3rd Sunday of Easter, Year A, verses 1-4, 12-19
Proper 6, Year A, Sunday between June 12 and June 18, verses 1-2, 12-19
Proper 19, Year B, Sunday between September 11 and September 17, verses 1-9

Each of the four times this psalm is appointed for Sunday reading, some verses (usually v3-11, and always verses 10-11) are omitted. Sometimes you really wonder why the psalms get edited the way they do for church reading. It is hard to escape the idea that they avoid the more difficult bits in favor of verses which are more easily turned to conventional faith. And these appointed verses comfort the faithful. "I will call upon the name of the Lord." "I will pay my vows." "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful ones." Oh, how like sparrows, we long for that to be true, to be watched over and loved. By anyone, but especially by God. And "You have loosed my bonds." How we long for that to be true, to be freed from anything which holds us back from wholeness.

There is great spiritual food in these verses. But they are a little less direct than the verses left out.

The snares of death encompassed me... I suffered distress and anguish. Then I called on the name of the Lord: “O Lord, I pray, save my life!”

It's dire when life is at stake. It's dire when the petitioner admits their powerlessness. It's dire when the attacks and enmity lead one to distrust everyone. "The Lord delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling." The one who expected to go down to the dead now walks among the living and offers praise.

The context matters. Thanks and testimony to God's intervention carry more weight when the witness' circumstances have been extreme. And when the deliverance and change in circumstances is so great.

Th psalm ends with declarations of faith which the psalmist will show in response to God's saving action. I will offer a thanksgiving sacrifice. I will call on the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows... We hope so. Declaring it in public, in the presence of all God's people is a good strategy for helping to keep those vows. And it is encouragement to others to call upon the Lord. Examples of faith help make faith more possible for us.

And this psalm offers that example, in the verses read aloud, and especially in those missing verses, where the psalmist is able to declare: "I kept my faith, even when I said, 'I am greatly afflicted'." In the midst of trouble, the prayer still goes out, trusting in the Lord's faithfulness to hear and respond.

What a gift of grace, to be able to cling to faith, even before the lifeline arrives.

Credits:
Cryptologic Technician (Technical) 2nd Class Charles Canal, Sea Hawk helicopter hovers above a life raft while performing a search and rescue operation, Gulf of Aden, July 5, 2010. Public domain.
Amanda Munoz, rainbow series colors, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0), cropped and adjusted.

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