Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved. (Psalm 80:3 NRSV)
We have seen a huge amount of suffering during the pandemic. People got very sick. People died. The survivors are a little worse for wear. For some of us, the only thing we can say about the last few years is that we did not die.
Psalm 80 gives voice to those who feel abandoned. It is a lament, but it is also a psalm of faith and hope. Hope in God’s gracious willingness to repent (v. 14) or return to the work of bringing life to humanity. And faith that we will again experience God’s presence with us.
I don’t believe God abandons us. It’s a human experience to feel alone when we are not alone. Even in a pandemic or a dark night of the soul, God is with us. Even when we are eating our sorrows and drinking our tears, God is present at the meal. God is with us as we suffer. God is with us as we find restoration and hope. God is with us.
Advent is a seasons of waiting and listening; and most of all hoping that we will see God in our midst just as we have before. God is with us Emmanuel.
I began writing Psalm reflections during Lent of 2020 shortly after we decided to close the church building, work from home, and worship via zoom. It is a practice I have continued since. Many churches use the Revised Common Lectionary (RLC) that rotates scripture on a three-year cycle (A, B, and C). Starting in Advent 2019, Third Church decided to worship with the texts from Year D, which is still not circulated as are years A, B, and C. Year D was created with the goal of including scriptures that were left out or not used as frequently as others. While we were using Psalms in year D, most other lectionary followers were using Year A. In Advent of 2020 we rejoined those who use the lectionary in year B. Advent of 2021 year C. Advent of 2022 year A.
I use the Vanderbilt Divinity Library’s resource for lectionary readings to make text selections.
Year A Psalms
1st Sunday in Advent Psalm 122, 2nd Sunday in Advent Psalm 72, 3rd Sunday in Advent Psalm 146, 4th Sunday in Advent Psalm 80, Christmas Psalm 96, Psalm 97, Psalm 98, 1st Sunday after Christmas Psalm 148, New Year Psalm 8, Epiphany Psalm 72, 1st Sunday after Epiphany Psalm 29, 2nd Sunday after Epiphany Psalm 40, 3rd Sunday after Epiphany Psalm 27, 4th Sunday after Epiphany Psalm 15, 5th Sunday after Epiphany Psalm 112, 6th Sunday after Epiphany Psalm 119, Transfiguration Sunday Psalm 2 or Psalm 99.
Ash Wednesday Psalm 51, 1st Sunday in Lent Psalm 32, 2nd Sunday in Lent Psalm 121, 3rdSunday in Lent Psalm 95, 4th Sunday in Lent Psalm 23, 5th Sunday in Lent Psalm 130, 6th Sunday in Lent Psalm 118 or Psalm 31.
Holy Week: Monday Psalm 36, Tuesday Psalm 71, Wednesday Psalm 70, Thursday Psalm 116, Friday Psalm 22, Saturday Psalm 31.
Easter Psalm 118 or Psalm 114, 2nd Sunday of Easter Psalm 16, 3rd Sunday of Easter Psalm 116, 4th Sunday of Easter Psalm 23, 5th Sunday of Easter Psalm 31, 6th Sunday of Easter Psalm 66, Ascension of the Lord Psalm 47 or Psalm 93, 7th Sunday of Easter Psalm 68, Pentecost Psalm 104.
1st Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 8, 2nd Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 33 or Psalm 50, 3rd Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 116 or Psalm 100, 4th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 86 or Psalm 69, 5thSunday after Pentecost Psalm 13 or Psalm 89, 6th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 45 or Psalm 145, 7th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 119 or Psalm 65, 8th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 139 or Psalm 86, 9th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 105 or Psalm 119, 10th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 17 or Psalm 145, 11th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 105 or Psalm 85, 12th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 133 or Psalm 67, 13th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 124 or Psalm 138, 14thSunday after Pentecost Psalm 105 or Psalm 26, 15th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 149 or Psalm 119, 16th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 114 or Psalm 103, 17th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 105 or Psalm 145, 18th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 78 or Psalm 25, 19th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 19 or Psalm 80, 20th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 106 or Psalm 23, 21stSunday after Pentecost Psalm 99 or Psalm 96, 22nd Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 90 or Psalm 1, 23rd Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 107 or Psalm 43, 24th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 78 or Psalm 70, 25th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 123 or Psalm 90, 26th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 100 or Psalm 95.
Sources and notes:
“Shepherd is the title for God as king who leads, protects, and provides for his people… God of hosts, the title used in the refrain and elsewhere, is the name particularly associated with the ark” Mays p. 262
“Like the flock, the vine and vineyard represented a basic and familiar possession that was owned, cared for, and prized as a primary good of life. Here God is portrayed as the owner who secured the vine, planted it, and cleared space for its growth.” Mays p. 263
“The psalm’s parable introduces the anguish and bewilderment of the people over the contrast and contradiction between what God began and what he now has done, leaving it exposed for strangers to gather the fruit of the vine and for wild animals to ravage the vine (vv. 12-14). Mays p. 263
“The prayer concentrates with a single focus on one thing and one thing alone–the divine Thou. It addresses the God identified in the invocations as the actor in the congregation’s experience of salvation and suffering and seeks God’s resumption of his earlier work as the means of restoration. The psalm is a witness that the congregation must in the long last and in its extremity look away from its own repentance to a kind of repentance in God — his turning away from wrath and retuning to grace. The trust that God will in the end do so is based on nothing in the congregation. It is based on the self-understanding that the congregation is the work of God, there in existence, wholly and only as the act of God. Believing that, the congregation can hope that God will not abandon what he has begun.” Mays pp. 264-265
The title Shepherd appears in the Psalms only in psalms 23 and 80. “The contrast in the mood and situation of the speaker in this psalm with that of the speaker in Ps 23 is striking. The protection and restored life longed for in Ps 80 is a reality in Psalm 23: there the Shepherd “leads”, “restores”, life, and “guides” the speaker in safe paths. The verbs “lead and “guide” differ from those in Ps 80, but the meaning is the same. The speaker in Ps 23 has received what the speaker and the congregation in Ps 80 want.” WBC p. 316
“…because the people trusted God to transform their circumstances and restore them, this act of faith was also an act of hope” NIB p. 526
“The conviction that one confronts God in every circumstance, both good and bad, lies at the heart of the ancient Israelite prayers for help.” NIB p. 526
“Psalm 80 is traditionally associated with the season of Advent, the celebration of God’s coming presence. There is no better way to express belief in the reality of God’s sovereignty than to address God out of our individual and corporate afflictions and to continue looking to God as the only source of light and life. ” NIB p. 526
“Advent is a season of preparation and repentance, and lest we be tempted to focus on our own efforts in these matters, Psalm 80 proclaims that our lives ultimately depend on God’s gracious willingness to repent (see v. 14). So does the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. What human repentance amounts to, at best, is turning to accept the loving embrace of the God who gives us life. As Jesus indicated in his extension of he image of he vine, “apart from me you can to do nothing” (John15:5 NRSV; see also Phil 1:6).” NIB p. 526
“Standing in dialogical tension with the psalms that come before and after it, Psalm 80 claims that God is responsible for the people’s suffering. It does this by reversing traditional vine imagery that both expresses God’s commitment to Israel and points out Israel’s failure to reciprocated that commitment (see Isa 5:1-7; Her 2:21; 6:9; Ezek 17:1-10; 19:10-14; Has 10:1; 14:7).” W p. 289
“The psalmist asks God directly why (v.12a) a careful gardener would put so much effort into transplanting the vine from Egypt (v. 8, a reference to the exodus) only to abandon it to destruction (vv. 12b-13). This question turns the vine metaphor on its head. “In fact, Psalm 80 is the only case in the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible where this vine imagery is used for the purpose of critiquing God’s unfaithfulness. In this way the vine metaphor functions as a motivation to support the plea for God to intervene.” W pp. 289-290
Jennifer Garrison Brownell wrote this reflection: “Here are my tears,” you said. “Eat. And these are my tears, too. Drink.” “Too salty!” we cried. “We can’t eat this sorrow! We can’t drink this suffering! We will die!” You heard our protest, and you lifted the plate and the cup anyway. Most of us turned away. But some of us stayed to eat and drink with you, and we did not die as we had feared. In truth, we lived. In truth, we live still. Psalm 80 Spong
WBC Allen, Leslie C. 1983. Word Biblical Commentary: Psalms 101-150. Vol. 21. Waco, TX: Word Books, Publisher.
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. 1974. Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible. 8th ed. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Press.
Brueggemann, Walter. 2007. Praying the Psalms: Engaging Scripture and the Life of the Spirit. 2nd ed. Eugene, OR: Cascade.
Brueggemann Brueggemann, Walter. 2014. From Whom No Secrets Are Hid: Introducing the Psalms. Edited by Brent A. Strawn. 1st ed. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.
Chittister Chittister, Joan. (2011). Songs of the heart: reflections on the psalms. John Garratt Publishing.
WBC Craigie, Peter C. 1983. Psalms 1-50–Word Biblical Commentary. Vol. 19. Waco, TX: Word Books.
Creach Creach, Jerome Frederick Davis. 1998. Psalms: Interpretation Bible Studies. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.
DAFLER, J. (2021). PSOBRIETY: A journey of recovery through the psalms. Louisville, KY: WESTMINSTER JOHN KNOX.
W de Claisse-Walford, Nancy L. WISDOM COMMENTARY: Psalms Bks. 4-5. Edited by Barbara E. Reid. Vol. 22. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 2020.
W Hopkins, Denise Dombkowski. WISDOM COMMENTARY: Psalms Bks. 2-3. Edited by Barbara E. Reid. Vol. 21. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 2016.
NIB Keck, Leander E. 2015. The New Interpreters Bible Commentary. Vol. 3. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.
Lewis, C. S. (2017). Reflections on the Psalms. Harper One, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers.
Mays Mays, James Luther. 1994. Psalms. Louisville, KY: John Knox Press.
McCann McCann, J. C. (1993). A theological introduction to the book of Psalms: The Psalms as Torah. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.
McCann, J. C., & Howell, J. C. 2001. Preaching the Psalms. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.
Merrill, N. C. (2020). Psalms for praying an invitation to wholeness (10th Anniversary Edition ed.). London, England: Bloomsbury Publishing.
Miller Miller, Patrick D. 1986. Interpreting the Psalms. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press.
Schlimm Schlimm, Matthew Richard. 2018. 70 Hebrew Words Every Christian Should Know.Nashville, TN: Abington Press.
Spong Spong, M. (Ed.). (2020). The words of her mouth: Psalms for the struggle. Cleveland, OH: The Pilgrim Press.
WBC Tate, Marvin E. 1990. Word Biblical Commentary: Psalms 51-100. Edited by David Allan. Hubbard and Glenn W. Barker. Vol. 20. Waco, TX: Word.
OTL Weiser, Artur. 1998. Old Testament Library: Psalms. Translated by Herbert Hartwell. 3rd ed. New York, NY: Manchester University Press.