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Psalm 91: 1-6; 14-16

Every year, in the weeks following Easter Sunday (Eastertide for the liturgical folk) I pack up my suitcase, my Bible and a few books and make the 6 hour drive south to a place where my soul feels at home. As I drive from Michigan, the air becomes warmer, the grass becomes greener, the trees begin to have buds and even some leaves. I know I am getting near my destination as I begin to see Dogwoods and Redbuds in full bloom. It’s like the transition from winter to spring speeds up just for me.

I don’t usually listen to radio or podcast when I make this journey. I use the time to reflect upon the season, the celebration of Easter and what challenges we have gone through or are going through as a church. Driving in silence helps prepare me for the retreat that is coming. Through this time of silence and watching the season change quickly, I sometimes arrive with peace and anticipation and at other times with tears, frustration and a desire to escape, if even for one week.

In whichever state I arrive, one thing is certain. As the sun is setting, the bell will sound, the people will gather and in the lingering shadows of daylight the organ will softly play. We who have gathered will stand and chant (sing) Psalm 91…and as I sing along, I will be reminded:

You who live in the shelter of the Most High

who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,

will say to the Lord, “My Refuge and my fortress;

my God, in who I trust.”

The entirety of this Psalm (including verses 7-13 which are not included in this reading) is a variation of this theme. Those who trust and abide in Yahweh, will find God to be faithfully present with them in their struggle and more than able to deliver them. The poet brings their skill to bear in a multitude of metaphors. From “snare of the fowler”, to “cover you with his pinions (feathers)”, to “shield and buckler” we are invited to remember the protection found in the presence of the Most High in whom we have placed our trust.

In God’s presence we need not fear the unknown …”the terror of the night”…nor the potential of war…”the arrow that files by day”…(verse 5). Both sickness…”the pestilence that stalks in darkness”… and the things that can happen in broad daylight…”the destruction that wastes at noonday”(verse 6) are rendered powerless to terrorize for the one who is abiding in the Shadow of the Almighty. The lights may dim, but the bell will sound, the organ will softly play, the people will rise and the singing reminder will sound in the sanctuary once again.

The psalm draws to a close with a promise (14-16). It is a promise for deliverance, protection, rescue, honor, long life and salvation. Yet the key is found in the second half of verse 15, “I will be with them in trouble”. This reminds us that the promise is not deliverance from but deliverance through the difficulty. Presence goes with you and covers like a wing or a shield. Presence goes with you and loosens the fowler’s snare or guides you around it. God’s power to protect is found in God presence with the one who abides in The Almighty.

This idea is captured in the version of the Psalm that the residents of the Abbey sing each night.