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Psalm 113

Praise the Lord. 

Praise the Lord, you his servants; praise the name of the Lord. Let the name of the Lord be praised, both now and forevermore. From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the Lord is to be praised.

The Lord is exalted over all the nations, his glory above the heavens. Who is like the Lord our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth?

He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes, with the princes of his people. He settles the childless woman in her home as a happy mother of children.

Praise the Lord.

Over the last week news media have marked the celebration of Queen Elizabeth’s platinum jubilee – the 70th anniversary of her being the ruling monarch in the United Kingdom. Her accession day was February 6, 1952 and she has reigned as queen of the common wealth uninterrupted for 7 decades. That makes her the longest reigning monarch in British history – and the third longest reigning monarch in history (for nations and individuals that have been internationally recognized as such); the longest (with the aforementioned caveats) being Louis XIV, who reigned in France until his death in 1715 – for a total of 72 years and 110 days.

Queen Elizabeth has out lasted 14 British Prime Ministers (15, if Boris Johnson keeps moving in the direction of non-confidence); 13 terms of Canadian Prime Ministers (14 if Canadians decide to translate Justin Trudeau’s approval ratings to actual election consequences, but he has proven himself evasive of such consequences in the past…); 14 Presidents of the United States; 7 Popes of the Roman Catholic Church; and 7 Lord Archbishops of Canterbury, the senior most cleric of the Church of England (of which the Queen Elizabeth, as Monarch, is also the Supreme Governor).

Her legacy is remarkable – equally so is her general adoration globally. Canadians regularly report admiration for Queen Elizabeth, with a recent Angus Reid Poll suggesting that upwards of 2/3rds of us view her favourably or higher; interestingly, according to the same poll, at least 60% of Canadians report they would be “at least somewhat affected” by her passing away. Even Americans – who you will remember violently revolted against the monarchy in the Revolutionary War of 1775-83, while King George III ruled in Britain – have a favourable view of the queen, with 61% saying they are “somewhat” or “very” favourable in their opinion of the monarch.

And yet, even with all that favourable opinion, even with all those connections to heads of states, even with the impressive list of histories notables  she has walked alongside of (the likes of Winston Churchill, Harry Truman, Pierre Trudeau, and Nelson Mandela [who was one of the few people permitted to call her by her first name because of their friendship]); to say nothing of the celebrities she has knighted over her tenure; with all the pomp and circumstance, protocol and security requirements… I simply cannot imagine Her Majesty the Queen sitting with dust covered, impoverished people stained with the ashes of lament.

And yet, that is exactly the image Psalm 113 coveys to us as all people, from all stations and walks of life, are gathered up in the call to worship the Lord. “He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes, with the princes of his people.” (vs. 7-8) Even for Israel’s kings  (who are supposed to be earthly examples of the Lord’s justice and mercy) this would have been an uncommon image. And yet, the inclusive scope of the contrast fulfills the purpose of the Psalm: to call all the people to praise God for his redemption, from princes to paupers; queens to people crying out with questions.

Most scholars recognize this psalm as the start of the “Egyptian Hallel” (Psalms 113-118). Hallel means “praise” – when these Psalms say “Praise the Lord” it is hallu jah in Hebrew (maybe you’ve heard the English “hallelujah”?) This group of Psalms were used in the Passover liturgy, with Psalm 113 and the next being sung before the meal and the following songs after. Both Matthew 26:30 and Mark 14:26 mention that after the Supper Jesus ate with his disciples they sang a hymn (or psalm), before heading out to the Mount of Olives.

Think about that… I’ve titled this devotional series The Songs of Prayer, and Psalm 113 is a Psalm that Jesus, almost certainly, sang before his passion. As Jesus drew near to the cross, these Psalms where on his lips and in his heart. As the bread is broken and shared, as the wine is poured out, praise the Lord.

As we celebrate the greater exodus in the death and resurrection of Jesus the scope contrast of redemption revealed in Psalm 113 continues to be borne out: God is over time (vs. 1), he is over all places (vs. 3), he is over all nations, there is none like him (vs. 4,5); and yet, there is no one too small for God: he lifts up the poor to a throne, he raises the mourning and lamenting (vs. 7,8), he gives the barren children and gives the lonely community (vs. 9). One writer summarizes the gospel from Psalm 113 by saying: “God’s greatness is seen in his regard for the ungreat. In Jesus he proved to be great enough to become small himself.”[1]

Even as the world – and the news media – revisits our cultural fascination with Queen Elizabeth II, may our hearts be compelled towards Jesus, the true and better King… the truest and best sovereign ‘or all the earth. His greatness none can fathom. 

Hallelujah Lord Jesus! Thank you for the cross and the empty tomb; thank you for your redemption and thank you for the faith that unites me to you and grants me access to the sovereign of all. Even as you are exalted, may I exalt you with all my life – in every moment of it: whether in riches like royalty or in poverty and mourning; praise the Lord! In Jesus’ name, Amen!

[1] Tim Keller, The Songs of Jesus, 294.