After a few days of lament, defeat, torment and confusion, today, something totally different. A festival Psalm, written and sung for a Royal wedding.
There are 4 sections;
Praise of the King
Celebration of his rule
Description of his wedding
Hope for their offspring
Through history many cultures have loved to celebrate their rulers, they are symbols of national pride, their qualities are seen as representing the values of that nation. One of the dramatic shifts in modern Western democracies is that this historical, cultural norm has largely gone. The history of twentieth century power abuse, anxieties around nationalism and a growing cynicism in our culture, particularly around populism, mean we no longer honour our rulers and are suspicious of those who do.
There are valid reasons for this shift, nationalism, power abuse, populism are dangerous. On the flip side, we are learning that cynicism, partisan politics and dishonour also have their cultural costs. In the past few weeks we have had to face a global pandemic and this has shifted the political landscape, we need leaders who lead, not just figures for us to mock, or political parties who trade vitriol.
As we approach this Psalm, a celebration of a ruler, on the occasion of his wedding, the lens through which we read it is interesting. We can learn different things by reading it different ways.
First, an ancient poem, during Judah’s monarchy, an historical moment. What does it tell me historically about their culture and what they valued? They loved their king, were proud of him, celebrated his looks, integrity, military success, and saw him blessed by God. The poem reads like Nicholas Witchell (BBC Royal Correspondent) describing the pageantry of a national occasion. The nation is excited about royal babies to come and the succession of the throne.
Second, we can read it through the twenty-first century Western eyes, cynical about unquestioning loyalty to the king and sycophantic of this royal wedding. We know from the Old Testament history that the kings weren’t perfect, even the greatest of all, David had major character flaws. We know that they exploited the people, served other gods, abused power and that this might have been one of many weddings this king had. We could elevate ourselves above this celebrating culture and think we know best from our current consciousness. To do so, would be to become unteachable from scripture. – Not good.
Third, maybe more personal to me, it resonates with the Lord of the Rings. v4 reminds me of the end of the second part of the trilogy, under siege, facing total defeat, Aragon’s courageous call to his battered army “Ride out with me”. They do and they win! Then v13-15 reminds me of the great Royal wedding at the end of the trilogy, (well near the end, the final scene does drag on a bit!) Aragon and Arwen’s wedding. A joyful and tender moment of celebration at the end of great battles. Apart from giving me a visual image of these scenes. Tolkein, a Christian, gives us something of Jesus in his characterisation. A victorious, courageous, servant-hearted leader, who knows how to love and cares for those he leads.
Finally, as Christians, we read this as a celebration of our King, Jesus. We lay aside the cynicism of the modern world about leaders and we join in with the eternal celebration of our perfect king. We rejoice in who he is, his integrity, his grace, his victory over evil and eternal rule. The people of Israel and Judah longed for their king to rule forever, Jesus fulfils that longing. His throne is forever and ever. And his marriage? His bride? – That’s us. You are in this Psalm!
The church, the bride of Christ. God sees his church as beautiful, he longs for our full unity and we look forward to being united with him.