Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh. Stir up your might, and come to save us! Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
O LORD God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers? You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure. You make us the scorn of our neighbors; our enemies laugh among themselves. Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved. But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself. Then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name. Restore us, O LORD God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
Have you ever felt so hopeless that it almost felt like God must despise the very prayers you pray? If not, surely God would answer these prayers, right? The feeling is awful. I’ve spent a lot of time this last year dealing with a situation that is just awful. I long to see justice done, and some sense of wholeness and peace, or shalom, restored. I know judgement is coming, and I trust God to ultimately be both the one who doles out true justice, and also the one who will restore and bless those in need. But still, there have been times this past year that I could relate to the words of the Psalmist here, and I know others have been able to as well.
The Psalmist’s words here are the words of sorrow and bitterness. He describes hungry people being fed on a diet of tears made of bread, and thirsty people given tears to drink. With all of this, he asks God how long God will be angry with Israel’s prayers. The feelings of sorrow, inequality, and abandonment are so strong, he suggests that God must simply be angry with the people’s prayers. Could it be? I suppose so, though I think it’s more likely that God simply hadn’t delivered the people yet. Sometimes deliverance is slow, unexpected, and strange, but the result is always good.
You know, the imagery of the Psalmist is quite Eucharistic. I can think of another who ate a diet of the bread and water of tears, and in the process of His suffering and sacrifice, rescued all. That person, of course, is Jesus. During times that I feel abandoned, hopeless, and just plain awful, I long for the table, for the grace and fellowship on offer in the Eucharist or Communion. It is there, at the table, that the mystery of the things I’m dealing with is confronted with “the mystery of our faith: that Christ has died; Christ has risen; Christ will come again!” I don’t always leave an experience of receiving the Eucharist with answers, but I do leave with hope, grace, and joy. These are all necessary and helpful food for the journey that lies ahead through the difficult situation. These all remind me that when there seems to be no way, God always makes a way. These remind me of the goodness of God’s justice and judgement to those in need, and of the threat they pose to the wicked.
As you pray today, be honest about the places and situations where you feel abandoned, the places you need God most. Ask God how He is working, and when. Be prepared for silence! As you pray, look ahead to communion (this coming Sunday at RCN). For it is there that the mystery you are experiencing will be found and engulfed in the very mystery of our faith. In doing so, your own mystery will likely take on meaning, find some explanation, or possibly will come to seem a bit more trivial than you first thought. If you don’t know when the next time communion will be offered at your church, consider asking the pastor, letting her know you’d be supportive of receiving communion more often. (In most cases, the pastor would like to observe the Eucharist more often!) The bread and wine of communion are the God’s answer to long-standing prayers. They represent the tears and suffering of Jesus, so that no longer would God’s people dine on bread and water made of tears. At the table we’re reminded that he has taken upon himself that which we deserve, so that we might be granted that which only he deserves. The Eucharist is the answer to the Psalmist’s prayers, and it is also the answer to your prayers. As you consider the ways you feel abandoned today, ask God to uphold and strengthen you by His grace at the Lord’s table this Sunday.