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Year C: Pentecost 5
June 27, 2010
Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20

The references to crossing the sea by way of a dry path (v. 19) and leading the people like Moses (v. 20) naturally connect this psalm to the reading about Elijah and Elisha today (2 Kings 2). But the psalm is connected at another level as we will see.

Psalm 77 is a lament psalm. The specific trouble the psalmist endures is not detailed, but the agony of the psalmist is evident (vv. 1-4). They cry aloud to God, they cannot sleep or be comforted in any way, and cannot put into words their complaint. It is then that the psalmist considers the ‘days of old’ (v. 5) and asks a series of questions whether this disaster will go on ‘forever’ (vv. 7-9). This section is omitted from the lectionary reading for this week. That is a great pity because without reading it we do not fully appreciate either the agony of the psalmist or the way in which that agony is inextricably linked to the psalmist’s hope. This was the same thing we saw in Elisha in 2 Kings 2. While he sought to take up the mantel of Elijah, there was also great angst on the disciple’s part both in terms of mourning what was about to happen to Elijah and in what was before him as Elijah’s replacement. In the context of faith, hope and fear are not mutually exclusive opposites. Rather, they coexist in a constructive relationship.

The language in vv. 5-9 of today’s psalm is reminiscent of that in Psalm 74 as is the recall of the past deeds of the Lord. The only difference is that in this psalm the wonders of old and mighty deeds recalled by the psalmist concern the exodus (see vv. 11-12), while in the case of Psalm 74 the language focused more on creation (see Ps. 74:12-15) with a hint of the exodus in v. 15. The mythological nature of the description of the exodus in Ps. 77:16-20 where the waters see God and fear and tremble (v. 16) corresponds to the mythical language of Ps. 74:13-14.

However, Psalm 77 moves beyond the recall of the past even in mythic language. In the second part of the reading set for today (vv. 11-20), the psalmist remembers a second time. This is where we get specific reference to the exodus. In a way, these verses are still dealing with the ‘days of old’. Memory, of course, deals with the past. On the other hand, Psalm 77 clearly shows that such memories may, in the one instance, lead to despair where the past remains the past and the present serves only to remind us of that by virtue of its seeming emptiness and abandonment (vv. 5-10). In another instance, however, memory can become the source of hope in that it acts as an urgent plea for deliverance in the context of that emptiness and abandonment (vv. 11-20). Memory can be a prayer that what seems to belong to the past may again be present. That is particularly the case when we deal with matters of the spirit and God’s eternal nature intersects with our past and present to shape our future.

Suggestions for the use of the psalm in worship

Verses 1-2 can be used as a beginning to the prayer of confession to be said either by the leader or the whole congregation:

I cry aloud to God, aloud to God,
that God may hear me.
In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying.
This could then be followed by the Kyrie.

Verses 11-15 could also be adapted to introduce the declaration of forgiveness.

We will call to mind the deeds of the LORD;
we will remember your wonders of old.
Your way, O God, is holy.
What god is so great as our God?
You are the God who works wonders;
you have displayed your might among the peoples.
With your strong arm you redeemed your people,
and in the words of Jesus,
we hear of your greatness and graciousness:
‘Your sins are forgiven.’
Thanks be to God.
Old Testament reading: 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14

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