“If the Lord had not been on our side,”
this is Israel’s song.
“If the Lord had not been on our side
when men rose against us,
then would they have swallowed us alive
when their anger was kindled.
Then would the waters have engulfed us,
the torrent gone over us ;
over our head would have swept
the raging waters.”
Blessed be the Lord who did not give us
a prey to their teeth !
Our life, like a bird, has escaped
from the snare of the fowler.
Indeed the snare has been broken
and we have escaped.
Our help is in the name of the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
The Grail, 1963
If you have ever escaped disaster by the skin of your teeth, you can relate to this psalm. I shall never forget when, as a teenager, I got into my thick skull the idea of testing Sir Isaac Newton’s principle of gravity by hauling a huge rock up into a tree and dropping it. I knew the rock would fall, but I wanted to see how big a hole it would make in the soft earth. A friend was nearby and offered to follow me up the tree. Of course, the rock slipped out of my hands and fell. It missed my friend’s head by a hair. It might have killed him. I was never so relieved and so grateful. My guardian angel must have blown the rock off its course ever so slightly.
This psalm is on a much higher level because, as opposed to a lucky escape from the innocent forces of nature, it deals with the opposition we all face from angry men and our deliverance by the Lord who made heaven and earth. Two images make it particularly appropriate for Good Friday : suffocation and being trapped. When Jesus was nailed to the cross, he could breathe only by pushing up his chest with his legs. Dare we imagine his scourged back rubbing against the splintered beam ? Although his legs were not broken like those of the thieves, his muscles gave out earlier and he drowned in his own spittle. Jesus’ commentary on the psalm is his Passion, which he freely accepted to set us free.
Ron Day, Easter, 2012