A, B, C, D...Aleph, Bet, Gimel, Dalet...or, the Long Psalm
As a cradle Episcopalian and now priest to this arm of the Body of Christ, I grew up with the Sunday morning lectionary, a 3 year rotation of readings for the Church. As a priest, I pray the Daily Office which has a 2 year cycle of readings. You would think that this means I read a lot of the Bible, and for the most part that is true; but the people who framed each of those lectionary cycles did not make the choices of which readings to use on which days based on the concept of providing a comprehensive reading source for scripture. They made their choices based on creating thematic (presumed) linkages between the categories of scripture in relationship with the Collect (or prayer) of the Day in the case of the Sunday readings. In the case of the Daily Office, they desired a slightly more comprehensive cycle of readings...but due to the limitations of time and volume were forced to continue an excerpted and subjective progression through the readings.
What does that mean? That means that the "long psalm," as I have always called Psalm 119 (since my days as a junior acolyte, counting the minutes to coffee hour and cookies on Sunday mornings), is always broken into pieces. Psalm 119 is one of my favorites, but I cannot remember a time in my life when I have just sat myself down to read through it in a sequential manner. I have been looking forward to this part of the journey as we embrace the Bible Challenge. Psalm 119 will be our pacing agent for the days to come, and for that I give thanks.
The first four sections of the psalm are a paean to God, a rendering of thanks for the blessings bestowed on the singer by the grace of God's commandments. They are an anchor of the composer's life, a source of inspiration, joy and protection. They are a portal for understanding, and a treasure to be admired. They are a gateway for the discovery of justice, righteousness and they provide a moral compass for the adherent that preserves them from harm and holds their enemies and detractors at bay. The only stumbling block for the singer in the pondering of the Law of God is that their eyes cannot express enough strength to continually read them, and their heart and will are not steadfast enough to observe them without flagging from time to time. The Psalmist prays, as do all faithful people, for God to give us what we need in order to follow and uphold God's commandments.
That burden is translated by Paul into a call to accept our own dying to sin in Christ's death on the cross, in order that we can rise with Christ in the resurrection. That might seem like a hard transition, but in my heart I believe that these two concepts are inextricably linked. If we are faithful to God, as the psalmist models in keeping the commandments of the Lord...then how far can we be from seeing Christ as the primary model and expression of that law? Jesus fulfilled every jot and tittle, and Paul sees him as the type that restores life from the death that sin has forged in us since Adam's departure from union and communion with God in the beginning.
Even as the psalmist sings praise to God for preservation, Paul proclaims a Christ who goes one step further...for Christ is the one who overcomes even death itself, that we might know life. The salvation that the psalmist pines for? The protection from sin? The hope for life? For Paul, that is revealed through our mutual dying to sin with Christ in his death...and in our mutual rising to new life in the resurrection.
Now, that is good news...and as basic as A, B, C, D....