psalms for passiontide: Maundy Thursday Psalm 116.1,10-17

As I write this I am at present without a voice due to a virus I picked up several weeks ago.  My throat is my weak spot and a barometer to the state of my overall health, and over the last few years I have experienced several lengthy periods where I can only whisper, and twice have been told to rest my voice entirely for six weeks or more , which led to some hilarious speed notebook writing episodes.  My memories of such enforced silence, the endless battle to work through my frustrations, with the resulting sense of isolation and locked in grief and despair, means I am particularly sensitive to phrases that are about crying aloud to God.  Thankfully, I know that God doesn’t need me to be literal, but even knowing the Spirit can communicate through my wordless groans, does not exonerate me from the fact that there are moments where I have to make a very deliberate choice to communicate with God in the midst of my everyday mess, rather than try to flee in the opposite direction.

This psalmist asks me a very simple, direct question:

What can I give back to God

    for the blessings he’s poured out on me?

(Psalm 116.12 The Message)

I am left silent at that question.  I can write, make images, paint, print, and publish.  I can care for those around me.  I can pray for people – known and unknown to me.  I can tithe money, give my time, skills, possessions, but I’m still aware all that still falls far short.  As Christina Rossetti asks, ‘What can I give Him, poor as I am?’

The answer this psalmist gives is clear:

I will lift up the cup of salvation

and call on the name of the Lord

(Psalm 116.13 NRSV)

I have been created into a vessel by the steady hand of Love, my Maker.  Love has gushed the waters of life over and through and into me in an endless stream of abundance. 

All I can do is to render back to God the cup I am. 

I am made to be a reflector, made to become a cup of blessing returned to God and to others.

The psalmist challenges me to perform an agape action, and intentionally dedicate myself to God in response to blessing.  I lift myself up as a toast to God! 

This symbolic moment is deliberately designed to refer back to a sacred Temple rite, and perhaps also to evoke the image of the ‘cup of blessing’, one part of a Jewish ritual marking the Old Covenant between God and the tribes of Israel.  The psalmist’s urge is to rush to the Temple and enact a sign of thanksgiving and adoration.

Yet, in a wonderful telescoping of God’s history, the word this psalmist uses to describe the cup of salvation is ‘Yeshua’.

Will I therefore lift up Jesus? 

Will I drink from him? 

Will I partake in the endless cycle and exchange that is this cup of Grace?

And what will be my ‘call’?

I can bring the words of this psalm out of the ancient Temple and onto my kitchen table, knowing that any cup can be a held as a gift and as an offering; and that every sip can function as a silent acknowledgment of Love.

‘Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.’ (In the bleak midwinter, Christina Rossetti)

I love the Lord, because he has heard

my voice and my supplications.

(Psalm 116.1 NRSV)

messy vessel blessing (bl)messy vessel blessing. (iPhone image)

Published by Kate Kennington Steer

writer, photographer and visual artist

3 thoughts on “psalms for passiontide: Maundy Thursday Psalm 116.1,10-17

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