Psalm 36: An encouraging prayer in threatening times
The physical distancing requirements prescribed by the authorities challenge our ability as a society to flourish during this pandemic. The directive to stay home, isolated from other people, is relaxed only if certain needs must be met, such as driving to the grocery store to buy food for the week. Sometimes we must state the obvious, and here is one such time: food is necessary for life. There is good reason grocery stores have been declared an essential service.
But we are not merely physical creatures. Human beings are spiritual creatures as well, so how will we feed ourselves spiritually during this time of physical distancing? Churches are closed. Churches have been declared a non-essential service! We may not now gather for worship on a Sunday or for fellowship during the week. We use social media to mitigate the effects of our distancing, but it is a poor substitute for gathering together as a corporate body. And for some of the activities in which we once participated, social media does not fill the gap at all.
For example, at our church we celebrate the Lord’s Supper together on the second Sunday of the month. Next Sunday is Easter Sunday. It is the second Sunday of the month, a week on which we normally would participate together in communion, but not during this pandemic. I chafe at the church being designated as a non-essential service! How will we be fed spiritually when we cannot meet together? If we cannot eat, we will die!
So Jesus, at the Last Supper with his disciples on the evening before he was crucified, took some bread and blessed it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it, for this is my body.” This bread, Jesus said, is my body; it represents all that I am, my whole person. Just as bread nourishes us and satisfies our hunger, so the crucifixion of Jesus benefits us as well. Peter says that Jesus personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. Jesus died so that we might live.
You see, bread is what Jesus is all about. Those who come to Jesus and those who are with Jesus are brought into relationship with God. Jesus is the one who satisfies our deepest hunger to know God. Just as bread nourishes us and keeps us alive and healthy, so Jesus is the one who nourishes us and strengthens us and gives us life. Jesus is the one who connects us to God and with each other.
The bread that we eat at the Lord’s Supper, though, is quite different from other bread that we eat. Well, in one sense it’s the same. We eat it, digest it, and make it a part of our bodies. But this bread of which Jesus said, “This is my body”, this bread does something very weird and backwards. This bread consumes us. It digests us and unites us to the body of Christ which is the church. This bread connects us to each other. This bread which is the body of Jesus consumes us and draws us into his life. That is amazing! But because of physical distancing requirements, we cannot meet as a church to be fed this essential food by Jesus. What shall we do?
Psalm 36 gives us some guidance during this week before Easter. It is a prayer for help. The poet was surrounded by trouble that threatened his ability to flourish. Although his enemies were wicked people, the threat to our well-being by COVID-19 is not so different. From that threatening reality, the poet turned to consider the character of God. His prayer is an expression of trust in God’s love and faithfulness. Even in threatening circumstances, God will preserve the poet’s life. He takes refuge in the shadow of God’s wings. God cares for his creation. Surely God will see that his people flourish as well! Look, God shelters his people, feeds them, and gives them drink. This is not surprising, for God is the very source of life.
On one level Psalm 36 describes physical realities. On another level, though, it describes spiritual communion with God. God relates to his people in a way that satisfies our deepest spiritual needs and longings. Even in times of trouble, even during this pandemic and the physical distancing it has brought about, including the closure of churches, God provides generously and blesses us with every spiritual blessing in Christ. Psalm 36 is a good prayer for us to raise up to God on this Monday during Holy Week.
Yes, we must fast from participating together in the Lord’s Supper, but even during this time of fasting, in Christ God will feed our spiritual hunger and quench our spiritual thirst. We long for the day when we can celebrate communion together again at CCBC. But in the meantime, pray Psalm 36. Reflect on the character of God, and give thanks that in threatening times, God faithfully meets our needs.