Sunday 8th November 2020

Psalm 46: Remembrance Sunday

‘Be still and know that I am God.’

Picture the scene:

It’s late at night. The sounds of war can be heard in the distance. A group of soldiers sit together in a trench listening to the sound of gun fire, distant explosions, the shouting of hurried orders…When dawn comes it will be their turn, for tomorrow they go over the top. The young men say little, there isn’t much to say, each with his own thoughts. Then one of them reaches into his top pocket and takes out his battered and precious book of the Psalms. He begins to softly read aloud from one of his favourites, Psalm 46, and he adds a few thoughts of his own as he reads: “God is our”, and as he says that word ‘our’ he looks up at his friends, nods toward them, and repeats the line, “God is our strength and refuge, an ever-present, an always there, help in trouble. Therefore, because God is our strength, because God is with us right here and right now, we will not fear, we will not be afraid…”

And as that young soldier reads of the God who makes wars cease to the ends of the earth,  it’s as though the sound of the battle fades just a little and in its place his steady, soft, confident voice now reaches verse 10 of the Psalm in which the Lord says, “Be still, and know that I am God…” and it’s as if, just for that moment, the whole world holds its breath and is still…and then the final verse, “The Lord Almighty is with us”, again the young soldier looks around his friends, nods and repeats, “With us, the God of Jacob is our fortress.” Having read the Psalm, he sets his open Bible on his lap. No one says a word, but something is different: the battle still rages, tomorrow they will still be called to go over the top, but amongst that little group there is a new collective hope, a new collective confidence, something shared, a renewed certainty of the presence of God no matter what tomorrow brings…

Remembrance Sunday is a day when we take time to remember the sacrifices of the past, sacrifices made on our behalf, that we might know peace in our time – and we in Northern Ireland know just how precious peace is. So, today, we take time to look back and remember, we take time to look at our here and now, and we also look forward, as God’s people, in hope and confidence.  And there is no better place to go as we ponder past, present, and future than to God’s precious Word, and within that Word, this great Psalm of hope and confidence, Psalm 46. Before we ponder this precious Psalm, let’s pray together:

Heavenly Father, at this time of remembering, we give You thanks for the sacrifices others have made and continue to make on our behalf. We give You thanks for Your precious Word, and for all You have done for us in Christ. Help us now as we ponder Your truth to be open to all You would say to us and may Your words be like a balm to our souls. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Psalm 46:

  • A Psalm of hope and confidence,
  • A Psalm in which God Himself speaks to us directly and gives us something to do,
  • Something that is the simplest and yet most profound of all things…

Psalm 46:

  • A Psalm for a trench in wartime,
  • A Psalm also for us today – for our good days, anxious days, joyous days,
  • A Psalm for every day, whatever that day may bring…

This precious Psalm opens on the most confident of notes: ‘God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble…’ From these very first words we are reminded, as that young soldier reminded his friends, God is not just ‘a’ refuge, He is ‘our’ refuge, yours, mine, ours…there is a belonging here, a solidarity that reminds us as God’s people, we, individually and collectively, can know that sheltering in God, His ever-present strength within us…And having made that great statement of faith, the Psalmist follows it with almost a note of defiance: ‘Therefore, we, [again that note of solidarity] we will not fear’. And to further hammer home his point, the Psalmist gives an example of the hope he has, and we can have, even on our most challenging of days; within the Psalm he describes such a day as:

  • A day when it seems the very earth is spinning out of control,
  • A day of sea storm and earthquake,
  • A day when all around us seems to be crumbling and falling apart,
  • When everything seems turned upside down,

Even on that day, the Psalmist’s hope and confidence in God is rock solid…And knowing we might need yet more reassurance, he keeps going, giving us a picture of gentle streams and serenity, the promise of God’s presence, peace and protection: verse4  ‘There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells…’ Reading those words can also take us to another Psalm and a similar promise, Psalm 23, ‘He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.’

And so with the promises of God laid out before us, we can say alongside the Psalmist: ‘We will not fear’…because we know, we are certain, verse 7, ‘The Lord Almighty is with us…He is our fortress…’ But that’s not the last word of the Psalm, for quite suddenly the One of whom the Psalmist has been speaking, speaks Himself, God our protector and fortress,  and our God gives us something specific to do, and what is it?  ‘Be still…’

‘Be still’; it’s more than ‘stop what you are doing’; it’s the call for a stillness on the inside, a calmness, a quietness, ‘Be still and know that I am God’…And isn’t it so like our amazing God that He gives us something so simple and yet so profound to do…something anyone could do; something you could do as you sit in an armchair, or work at your desk, or stand by the kitchen sink, or in the garden, or on the Commons, or by the sea shore, or even in a cold, muddy, wartime trench with the sounds of war all around…‘Be still and know that I am God’…

What a precious Psalm this is! But we are a privileged people, for we know more than even the Psalmist could have known as he speaks of God, ever-present, with us…for we know of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, Immanuel, His very name meaning, ‘God with us’…Jesus Christ the One who came and died for us, the One who is with us by His very Spirit. Let me encourage you today and in the days ahead, read and reread this wonderful Psalm, and answer God’s call by taking that time to be still, to be still and know God. Why not build that stillness and knowing into everyday…focus your thoughts on God and of His Son Jesus Christ who died for you, be thoughtful and be thankful…

Sunday 8th November, Remembrance Sunday, on this day and in the week that follows we take time, in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Christ, to remember the sacrifices of men and women in the past, to give thanks for peace, to remember God’s love for us in the sending of His precious Son, the One in whom we are truly free, and having done so, we look forward, as God’s people, in hope and confidence.

‘God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble…’

The Lord Almighty is with us, the God of Jacob is our fortress…