In my last post, reflecting on psalm 21, a coronation psalm, I mentioned that it stands at the threshold of the special prophetic sequence of psalms 22-24 which speak in turn of Christ’s crucifixion, his leading us through the valley of the shadow death as our good shepherd, and his ascent into heaven as our lord and king. Because of the way these psalms and the poems written in response are linked, I am going to post my responses to psalms 22 and 23 together, so that you can read them as a sequence and also experience the effect of the linked closing and opening lines which make the sequence a ‘corona’.
In these poems I am often drawing on or responding to the language of Coverdale’s translation of the Psalms in The Book of Common Prayer, and you might like to re-read these psalms in that translation alongside the poems
For all Christians reading psalm 22 has a special power and poignancy because it was on the lips of Jesus when he died. As I say in my poem, ‘Christ himself is crying through this psalm’. And psalm 23 is perhaps the nation’s favourite, with its comforting image of the Lord as our shepherd leading us by still waters. People seldom link the two psalms, but the link is essential. The Lord can only be my shepherd and lead me through the valley of the shadow of death if he himself makes that journey with me, and psalm 22 tells me he does just that. Jesus goes to the cross, cries out that psalm, and passes through the gates of death, not only to make my peace with God, but also to be with me and lead me through when I make the same journey.
As always you can hear me read the poems by clicking on the play button or the title and you can find the other poems in this evolving series by putting the word ‘psalms’ into the search box on the right.
Before he shares with us the golden crown,
He comes to share with us the crown of thorns.
Our hurts and hates close in and hem him round
Mock and humiliate him. All the scorns
With which we blaspheme God in one another
Are concentrated here among ‘the horns
Of unicorns’, the lions mouths, the slather
Of our devouring wickedness. He takes
It all and turns it into love. He gathers
All of us and by atonement makes
Our peace with God. He speaks to us of mercy
Even as we pierce him. No-one slakes
His thirst. I tremble at the mystery
For Christ himself is crying through this psalm,
To suffer my own dereliction for me.
To suffer my own dereliction for me,
To be my shepherd, and to lead me through
The grave and gate of death, in strength and mercy
Christ has come down. At last I’ve found the true
Shepherd and the false just fade away,
Before him. I will sing of how he drew
Me from the snares I set myself, how day
Dawned on my darkness, how he brought me forth
Converted me and opened up the way
For me, and led me gently on that path,
Led me beside still waters, promised me
That he’d be with me all my days on earth,
And when my last day comes, accompany
And comfort me, as evening shadows fall,
And draw me into his eternity.
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