Psalm 79 is one of those ancient psalms which we read with fresh eyes in this present crisis, a psalm that seems to speak directly into our situation with an uncannily contemporary edge and it does so with a single chilling phrase: ‘there was no man to bury them’. The original context was the sack of Jerusalem the destruction of the temple, and a massacre happening in the very place which was meant to be the centre of Israel’s stability, confidence, and certainty:
O GOD, the heathen are come into thine inheritance: thy holy temple have they defiled, and made Jerusalem an heap of stones.
The dead bodies of thy servants have they given to be meat unto the fowls of the air: and the flesh of thy saints unto the beasts of the land.
Their blood have they shed like water on every side of Jerusalem: and there was no man to bury them.
We are not faced with an invasion of ‘the heathen’, with a visible, human enemy, but with an invisible virus that is tearing through our society and cruelly debilitating and killing so many. When I wrote my response to this psalm in the spring of last year, there were grim reports that hospital mortuaries were running out of space, and in some countries there was nowhere left to bury the dead and new cemeteries were being excavated, which is why that phrase in verse three had such resonance. But even as I write this post now, in the January of the following year, the numbers rise again and we hear once more of make-shift mortuaries. This is terrible and it calls for cries of pain and lament, but it is not new, and it is some comfort that at the heart of the Bible these same cries are recorded, sanctified, and given for us to pray in the verses of our holy scripture. And for a Christian there is more. I chose the form of a ‘corona’, a linked series of poems, for this sequence because I believe that the ‘corona spinea’ the crown of thorns which Jesus wore, foreshadowed in these psalms, is made up not only of his own suffering but of all he chooses to suffer in and with and for us as we go through these dark times, because he goes through them with us, for he is Emmanuel, our God with us. So my poem begins with the lamentations of the psalm but ends with a direct appeal to Jesus.
The full set of these poems has now been published as a book David’s Crown which you can buy from UK Amazon Here, or, in North America, it should soon be available from Book Depositary Here. There is also going to be a launch event/webinar on Feb 11th at 7pm GMT it will be completely free and you can register for it Here.
As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the play button or the title.
He pulled me through with patient tenderness
And now I need his patience in my soul.
For now I feel the force of wickedness
And fear the worst in us will take control
And make a ruination of the best
As this long trial and crisis takes its toll.
The psalmist also faced this deadly test
So many dying every day, no space
Or even time to bury them. Pressed
On beyond what’s possible, we face
Our dark dilemmas every day. We choose
For one another life or death. We race
Against the clock, and still we fear to lose
The lives we seek to save. O Jesus hear
Our sighs and pleas and bring us swift release.
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