“Let my prayer rise before you as incense; the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” – Psalm 141:2
“In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us.” – Luke 1:78, from the Benedictus
As a practitioner of morning and evening prayer, it was a happy event to notice an interweaving of this coming Sunday’s texts.
There is a format to both Evening and Morning Prayer. From day to day there is a lot that is repeated within the particular prayer service. Morning Prayer begins with the prayer for God to open our lips, so that our mouths shall proclaim praise to God. Evening Prayer often begins with an ancient hymn that is called the “Phos Hilaron” which is translated to mean “Joyous Light.” These are part of the pattern that weaves together the rhythm of each day. Because they are repeated so often together, there is an association that grows.
In Evening Prayer, it is typical that the first psalm appointed to be sung is Psalm 141 (our appointed psalm for this Sunday). The association between this psalm and Evening Prayer is obvious: it was written for the evening services held in the Temple.
Each major prayer service also includes Scripture that is called a Gospel Canticle. These pieces of the Gospel narrative that had a lyrical component to them. The canticle for Morning Prayer is the prophecy Zachariah sang when his tongue was freed to speak. This canticle is called the “Benedictus” from the Latin translation of the first words, “Blessed be.” It is associated with Morning Prayer because Zachariah sings of “the dawn from on high will break upon us,” (Luke 1:78b). The Benedictus is included in this coming Sunday’s Gospel reading.
This happy coincidence in our lectionary unites two of the most well-known parts of Evening and Morning Prayer. Such a co-incidence, for myself, is akin to a total solar eclipse when key parts of night overlap with key parts of day. Such an event is worthy of a pause and a ponder.
With the arrival of the Summer Solstice, this intertwining of scripture works well for those in the far northern part of our hemisphere when there is no sunrise nor sunset and the mornings and evenings blend together.
However, perhaps we can see how the true dawn from on high is not tied to the Earth’s stellar anchor, the sun, but rather it is that we await the triumphant return of the Son. And that the prayers of Psalm 141 need not only be tied to our Evening Prayers, but can be our prayers at all times.
Or it could be that we see time as more wibbly-woobly and timey-wimey than we normally do. (We are, in fact, going to be singing Advent and Christmas hymns this Sunday!) It is just a good reminder from one of my favorite hymns that Jesus Christ is “the Lord of Interstellar Space and Conqueror of Time,” (And Have the Bright Immensities, LBW 391).
God continue to be with you!
Yours in Christ, Pastor Paul+