Call to Worship
Why are you cast down, O my soul? Hope in God, for I shall again praise him.
CH4 550 v. 1
As the deer pants for the water
so my soul longs after you.
You alone are my heart's desire,
and I long to worship you.
You alone are my strength and shield
to you alone may my spirit yield.
You alone are my heart's desire
and I long to worship you.
Great and glorious God, our help in times of trouble, our friend in times of distress, our
companion on life's way, and our exceeding joy, be with us in this time of worship; and by
your Holy Spirit teach us how to pray, and how to listen for your word for us. Pause
Though separated in our homes, we join together to ask your blessing and your forgiveness
in the words our Saviour taught us: Our Father, which art in heaven……..
Reading: Psalms 42 and 43
As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirst for God, for the living God.
When shall I come and behold the face of God?
My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, 'Where is
These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I went with the throng, and led them in
procession to the house of God, with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, a multitude
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.
My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of
Hermon, from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep at the thunder of your cataracts; all your waves and your billows have
gone over me.
By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to
the God of my life.
I say to God, my rock: 'Why have you forgotten me? Why must I walk about mournfully
because the enemy oppresses me?' As with a deadly wound in my body my adversaries
taunt me, while they say to me continually: 'Where is your God?'
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for
I shall again praise him, my help and my God.
Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people; from those who are
deceitful and unjust, deliver me!
For you are the God in whom I take refuge; why have you cast me off?
Why must I walk about mournfully because of the oppression of the enemy?
O send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill
and to your dwelling.
Then will I go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy; and I will praise you with the
harp, O God, my God!
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help, and my God.
Although not only modern Bibles, but also ancient Jewish texts, print these as two separate
psalms, yet scholars have reason to believe that they were, originally, joined together as
one single poem. Since they certainly make a lot of sense as a single unit, I have decided to
include Psalm 43 along with the intended reflection on Psalm 42.
The well-loved hymn which begins As the deer pants for the water draws its inspiration from
the first verse of the beautiful Psalm 42, which is the song of someone in deep trouble and
distress – someone whose faith is being tested by his circumstances. The serene faith of the
second and third verses of the modern hymn is only reached, in the psalm, through intense
struggle – as is so often the way in life.
The poet seems to be in hiding or in exile, and to be surrounded by enemies. We cannot be
certain of the situation which led to its composition – whether these enemies have an
independent existence, or whether they are his own internal, despairing thoughts. The
places mentioned, near the source of the Jordan river adjacent to the northern borders of
ancient Israel, might suggest someone in hiding from local enemies. On the other hand, the
intense longing for home which permeates Psalm 42, and the taunts of enemies directed at
the God of Israel, would equally suit the circumstances of Jewish exiles in Babylon.
(Remember Ps 137, 'By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion –
how can we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?')
The opening of the Psalm has been said by the Rabbis to picture not only the thirst and
desire of the deer for water, but also its anxiety and vulnerability as it approaches the
watering-place, where predators gather. Even so does the anxious worshipper long for the
life-giving presence of God. While we know, through Christ, that the Spirit of God is
everywhere, and can be worshipped anywhere, this was not always understood in the
ancient world, where many believed that gods were tied to a locality; when you went into
exile, you lost not only your homeland and family, but also the presence and protecting
power of your own god.
This psalmist, however, understands and believes – at least for part of the time – that he can
pray to God from his place of exile: 'By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at
night his song is with me' – but he still yearns to come 'before the face of God' in the Temple
in Jerusalem. He remembers vividly and with special longing how he would join in the
festival processions leading up to the Temple hill (as, centuries later, the Passover crowds
would throng the roads to Jerusalem).
In lands where religion and nationhood were united, holy days and public festivals were one
and the same. This was the case in ancient Israel, and in mediaeval Europe; while this union
of religious and civic celebration persists today in such events as the Coronation and – much
closer to home – the Kirking of the Cornet!
So we in Channelkirk and Lauder, though removed by many miles and many centuries from
that ancient psalmist, have much in common with him; we too are excluded from our places
of worship, and from our great annual local festival. It is the genius of the Book of Psalms
that in so many ways it can speak so directly to our twenty-first century experience. There
must have been great sadness and disappointment in the hearts of those closely associated
with our Common Riding, when it became evident that, this year, it could not take place.
Coming to terms with loss is a universal human experience, from the time we leave the
womb. In the time of corona virus many have lost their lives, or their loved ones; and those
of us who have escaped such ultimate loss have been well aware that our lesser losses – of
freedom of movement, of meeting with friends, of keenly anticipated holidays and special
events, together with all the general inconvenience – all these are trivial when compared
with those great tragedies. But now as the pandemic enters the more chronic phase, and
the reality of huge job losses, destruction of businesses, and economic down-turn begins to
bite, we are having to come to terms with the loss of the lifestyle, and the world, that we
knew. Yet still we are fortunate here in Britain, compared with the poor and oppressed in
many countries across the world, whose daily life was a struggle even before the pandemic
In times of loss and distress, however caused, we may well enter into the feelings of grief
and desolation so vividly expressed by the Psalmist – 'my soul is cast down within me ….all
your waves and your billows have gone over me.' (This part of the psalm seems to have been
quoted in the prayer of the prophet Jonah, from the belly of the great fish! Jonah 2: 3-5)
The psalmist feels that God has forgotten him, and left him a prey to his enemies (whether
those enemies are physical beings, or his own nagging, despairing thoughts). But from time
to time, his faith revives a little, as he wonders why he feels so discouraged, when God will
surely come to his aid, as he has in the past. At the start of psalm 43 he is again distressed,
and he urges God to take up his cause, to defend him from his enemies, and to vindicate
him in the sight of those who have derided his faith. 'You've always been my refuge, God',
he protests, 'why have you cast me off now?'
But that very act of remembering how God has been his refuge, and will surely be so again,
revives his faith more strongly, and he breaks into that wonderful prayer which has become
a powerful and well-loved metrical psalm and hymn – O send thy light forth and thy truth, let
them be guides to me. God's light and truth will guide his footsteps until he comes again to
God's holy temple. Then indeed he will take his harp and sing God's praises with joy.
Loss is a universal human experience, from the time the infant leaves the womb. But though
the infant must leave the comfortable, tranquil safety of the womb, with that loss there
opens a new world of possibilities – of experience, of learning, of growth, of wonder and of
love. Let it be our prayer that, as the world passes through, and ultimately overcomes, the
horror of the pandemic, so new wisdom, new ways of utilising knowledge, and new ways of
expressing compassion, may bring a brighter future to all God's children.
And in our own dark days, we may turn for encouragement to these great psalms, finding,
as did that unknown Hebrew, new strength and courage in our faith, and singing with him,
to the same faithful God, 'O send out thy light and thy truth – let them lead me.' Amen.
O send thy light forth and thy truth;
let them be guides to me,
and bring me to thine holy hill
even where thy dwellings be.
Then will I to God's altar go,
to God my chiefest joy;
Yea God, my God, thy name to praise
my harp I will employ.
Why art thou then cast down, my soul?
What should discourage thee?
And why with vexing thoughts art thou
disquieted in me?
Still trust in God; for him to praise
good cause I yet shall have;
he of my countenance is the health,
my God that doth me save.
Holy God, you are the same, yesterday, today, for ever.
As you were rock and refuge to your faithful servant the psalmist
and as you answered the desperate prayers of your faithless servant Jonah
so hear our prayers, unworthy as we are.
Holy God, you call us to be faithful, and we aren't.
You call us to trust you, and we often doubt.
You call us to serve your people, and too often we walk by on the other side.
Forgive us, Father; forgive our fears and our frailty and our failings, through Jesus Christ our
Holy God, we bring to you our prayers for your world, racked by disease, violence and
We pray for all the victims of the pandemic, and for all those who strive to moderate its
Bless the efforts of the scientists who seek vaccines.
Be with those who mourn the loss of those dear to them.
Be rock and refuge to all who call upon you.
Holy God, send your light and your truth into the world's dark places, and into the centres of
Help us to turn from fear and anger to empathy, compassion and love.
We pray for our country, asking wisdom and integrity for our leaders, and for the healing of
Be with your Church throughout the world,
Defend those who are persecuted for naming Christ,
and restore to all your people the joy of worshipping together.
Hear us, Father, as we bring to you our special prayers for those we love, for those known to
us in need of blessing, and for ourselves.
Merciful Father, accept these prayers, for the sake of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.