Year C: Pentecost 6
July 4, 2010
Psalm 30 is a psalm of thanksgiving. It continues the note of praise from its predecessor, Psalm 29. Mourning has been turned to dancing for the psalmist (v. 10), who calls others to join them in their joy (v. 4). The lament of the psalmist is in the past. The words of the psalm, especially ‘healed’ in v. 2 might suggest some illness experienced. The language of death and of ‘going down to the Pit’, a metaphor for death, in vv. 3, 9 also gives the impression of a very serious illness. But such language is frequent in the psalms and whether we are to understand it literally or metaphorically is difficult to judge. Its function as the language of ‘poetic prayer’ allows it to mean more than one thing. In any event all that is now in the past and the psalmist is overtaken by joy. Mourning is replaced by dancing, sackcloth by joy itself.
This prayer of thanksgiving, if you like, gains its very life from the contrasts it sets before us. Images of circumstances engendering loss and grief are replaced by ones which immediately send us to the extreme in delight. The psalm is clearly a suitable companion to the story of Naaman and even to that of the disciples as they went from town to town telling the message of Jesus and curing the sick. While the story of Naaman especially speaks of the expectations when one seeks healing – be they to do with false images of power in relation to healing, or with requests which do not really expect anything at all to happen – the psalm itself reminds us of the tremendous excitement and joy in seeing ‘death’ turn into ‘life’ that is in both the Old Testament reading and the Gospel. It is a reminder that, in spite of all our apprehensions, fears, disbelief, or assumptions about what is possible and how, God does bring about change in life and healing.
The superscription to the psalm associates it with the ‘dedication of the temple’, referring to a ceremony associated with the Jerusalem Temple. The Midrash on the Psalms (an ancient Jewish commentary) links the psalm with all three dedications of the temple (in Solomon’s time, 1 Kgs 8.63; on the reconstruction of the temple after exile, Ezra 6.16-17; and again in the second century BCE, 1 Macc. 4.52-59). After several psalms in which the psalmist longs to dwell in Yahweh’s house (Pss. 23.6; 24.3; 26.8; 27.4) this dedication is not out of place in Psalm 30. The granting of this oft expressed longing is also a call for thanksgiving – a different kind of healing after illness. On the other hand, the reason for thanks can quickly give way to further grief and distress, and the return to lament in Psalm 31 immediately following is a sharp reminder of this.
Suggestions for the use of the psalm in worship:
Psalm 30 has many verses that lend themselves to different parts of the service of worship. Verse 4 would make a fine call to worship at the start of the service.
Verse 10, suitably changed to the plural (‘Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to us! O Lord, be our helper!’) would serve as an appropriate response by the congregation during the prayers of confession.
Words from vv. 5, 11 could also be shaped to introduce the declaration of forgiveness:
For his anger is but for a moment;Old Testament Reading: 2 Kings 5:1-14
his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may linger for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.
Lord, you have turned our mourning into dancing;
you have taken off our sackcloth
and clothed us with joy,
with the words of Jesus:
‘Your sins are forgiven!’
Thanks be to God
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