The Psalms as a Reminder that Christ has Become Present in All of Our Lives

Not only do the Psalms invite us to embrace the full range of our inner life – our emotions, dreams, and desires – as potential places in which we can encounter Christ, but the full variety of experiences in our lives.

Two theologians helped me see this for myself.  First, we have Deitrich Bonhoeffer.   Then, we have Walter Bruggemann.

I will talk about what Bonhoeffer taught me now and Bruggemann later.

bonhoefferBonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor and theologian from Germany who led the work of organizing Christians to stand against the abuses of the NAZI regime.   Ultimately, Bonhoeffer was imprisoned for his stand and killed, dying a Christian martyr.

During his time of organizing Christians and people of good will to resist the destructive forces at work in NAZI Germany, Bonhoeffer organized an alternative community he writes about in his classic work Life Together .  It is in Life Together I first learned that the Psalms also are a reminder of what happened for us in Jesus.

Bonhoeffer writes,

“The Man Jesus Christ, to whom no affliction, no ill, no suffering is alien and who yet was the wholly innocent and righteous one, is praying in the Psalter through the mouth of his Church.  The Psalter is the prayer book of Jesus Christ… He prayed the Psalter and now it has become his prayer book for all time… Those who pray the psalms are joining in with the prayer of Jesus Christ, their prayer reaches the ears of God.  Christ has become their intercessor”.

The Psalms, then, are the prayer book of Jesus.  A part of why they include the full range of human experience and emotion is that Jesus took all of these on.

images-of-jesus-praying-to-godxBonhoeffer’s point is the prayers allow us to connect with Jesus, to pray alongside Jesus, as if we and Jesus are praying together.   I think this is a beautiful way to approach the Psalms and prayer itself.  When we pray “in the name of Jesus”, this is what we are recognizing.  In some mysterious way, through the Spirit, Jesus is standing right beside us, praying with us.  I used to use the analogy of when my mother held my hand helping me learn to trace my letters so that I might learn to write on my own.  So Jesus prays with us, and the Psalms help us pray with Jesus.

But to me, just as importantly, this is a reminder that Jesus has tasted fully of our own experiences.

One Biblical author puts it this way,

“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Hebrews 2:14 – 18)

gethsemane prayerEarly Christian mystic and theologian Gregory of Nazianus goes further and says,

“What has not been assumed has not been healed; it is what is united to his divinity that is saved. . .”

Gregory of Nazianzus, Epistle 101

In some mysterious way, in becoming flesh and blood in Jesus, God took on all that makes us human.  God took on our pain and heartache.  Our joy and sorrow.  Our inexperience and lack of wisdom, for Jesus was born needing to be clothed, fed, taught.  The Gospels even show us moments when Jesus acts in ignorance and has to learn to do better.   Jesus even, being born a male with a body that seems to have fully worked, had a sexuality.   We do not know from Scriptures if he ever fell in love, had sex, was married.  Tradition suggests he took on a vow of celibacy, but the Bible doesn’t say.  Either way, he felt desire.  He felt attraction.  I don’t doubt he fell in love, as we do, whether he ever had a partner he settled down with or, as tradition suggests, chose not to do so because he somehow knew he would end up leaving them widowed or abandoned by the cross.

Every part of the human experience has been swept up into God through Jesus taken on our own experience into his own.

This furthers the lesson of the Psalms that we don’t need to fear our feelings, desires, longings, fears, and failings.  Rather, in every aspect of who we are, we can encounter God. For what God has taken on is healed, is a source of salvation.

Now as we face into our deepest feelings, our most ordinary hum-drum experiences, and our most heart-wrenching pains we can know: there, in that place, God has set up house.  God dwells.

The transformation in consciousness this produces for me is beautifully pictured by Peter Mayer’s song “Holy Now”.

 

When I was a boy each week

On Sunday we would go to church

Pay attention to the Priest

and he would read the Holy word

and consecrate the Holy bread

and everyone would kneel and bow

Today the only difference is

Everything is Holy now

Everything,Everything,Everything is Holy now

When I was in sunday school

We would learn about the time

Moses split the sea in two

and Jesus made the water wine

I remember feeling sad

Miracles don’t happen still

but now I can’t keep track

cause Everythings a Miracle

Everything,Everything,Everythings a Miracle

Wine from water is not so small

but an even better magic trick

is that anything is here at all

Sooo, The challenging thing becomes

Not to look for Miracles

but finding where there is’nt one

When Holy water was rare at best

It barely wet my fingertips

but now I have to hold my breath

like I’m swimming in a sea of it

It used to be a world half there

Heavens second rate hand me down

but I walk it with a reverent air

cause Everything is Holy now

Read a questioning child’s face

and say it’s not a testament, that’d be hard to say

see another new morning come and say it’s not a Sacriment

I tell you that it can’t be done

This morning outside I stood,Saw a little red wing bird

Shining like a burning bush

and singing like a scripture verse

it made me want to bow my head

I remember when church let out

How things have changed since then

Everything is Holy Now

It used to be a world half there

Heavens second rate hand me down

but I walk it with a Reverent air

cause Everything is Holy Now

 

 

How does it transform your experience to encounter all of life as holy through Christ?

 

Micah

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