Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Tonight Evening Prayer had the rather grim Psalm 48. It has that rather grim theme and refrain which seem to come out of the same existential weariness that infuses Ecclesiastes: In his riches man lacks wisdom, he is like the beasts that are destroyed. And there's that other bit, where death shall be their shepherd, inverting the  comforting shepherd images we get in Psalm 23 and in the gospels.

So you don't get  the usual  peaceful, day-is-done mood that   Evening Prayer is known for.

But dig a little deeper and we find a key to hope. That key is the word "ransom".
The psalm is divided into two sections in the liturgy. In part one the psalmist tells himself not to mind that his wealthy foes boast of their wealth, since "no man can buy his own ransom, or pay a price to God for his life. The ransom of his soul is beyond him..."  

Then look at part II of Psalm 48. The psalmist again goes on about foolish rich who trust in themselves and what their fate will be. Then, linking back to the part about our being powerless to ransom our souls, he says, But God will ransom me from death and take my soul to himself. 

A clear prophecy of our redemption, and/or a prophetic "type" of Jesus, who here speaks of His resurrection.

To complete this theme of hope amidst all the inevitability of death, we go to this evening's canticle from Revelation:  For you were slain; with your blood you ransomed* (purchased) for God men of every race and tongue, of every people and nation. 

The reading from Romans also picks up on this theme, mentioning that we are "now undeservedly justified by the gift of God."

So, despite that beasts that are destroyed business, tonight's Vespers really is a feel-good experience.

*Our American breviaries use the New American Bible, which says "purchased", but I'm going here with the Revised Standard Version used by other English speaking nations. "Ransom" is a more precise word than "purchase" to describe what Our Lord did for us.