They dyed their hair purple and hung purple ribbons around the area using her favourite colour. Her peers instead of a minute’s silence had a minute of applause. Closer to our home, some built a circle of stones - the traditional tracking symbol for a Scout to know that someone being tracked has gone home, but also the traditional Scouting way of remembering one of their own who has died. All of this done to remember Jodie Chesney, who was stabbed to death in Romford - the fifth teenager to die in the capital this year. How can this be?
Calls to build a wall continue to spout from the office of the president in the White House whilst concerns, ramped up by certain sections of the British press continue to ask popular but unpalatable questions about immigration, crime and employment.
Despite all the political wooing of North Korea in recent months, there seems to be renewed construction underway at a rocket launch site, amid mounting fears of an imminent ICBM test.
All of these questions of safety and security, of national identity, of ethnicity and cultural heritage, are all in the mind of the community that the Psalmist was part of. Midrash tradition says that Psalm 91 was written by Moses on the day that the tabernacle for the ark of the covenant was completed and was recited by him as he made his way up Mount Saini to protect him from angels of destruction. The psalm is said today in the Jewish community before sleep and during the burial of the dead.
It is known as the Soldiers Psalm or Prayer and bandanas or badges with it imprinted are often given to US troops and verses of this psalm are quoted by the devil to Jesus in this morning’s Gospel reading as Jesus deals with temptation.
In the face of personal, national and international fear and uncertainty, in a time when we might want to be lifted out of a situation that it out of our control; when we wish we could escape a scenario that is not of our making or that is not going our way; when we fear for our lives or the lives of those we love; the opening verses of the psalm present us with an image not of a mother hen and with us her chicks nestled beneath her, but of God as the Almighty, as a fortress or refuge. God like a massive bird of prey, powerful and yet intimate images of protection. God’s angelic wings will be a sure protection in the face of all attack. No evil will affect us or even come close to the places where we dwell but not just us, but all those who dwell with us in our tent. God will protect families and communities.
If these words were said by Moses as he climbed the mountain and recited by the people of Israel as they pilgrimaged through the wilderness, these were words said by a people on the move. So when the devil quotes verses 11 and 12, ‘... For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone…’ to Jesus he was meaning that God will surely protect Jesus if He jumped, but the original context was about avoiding the rocks and stones that littered the desert as the people walked. God has such a close eye on us that He won’t let us stumble on a stone, He will not let us trip and if something blocks our way - he will bear us up, lifting us up over it. The psalmist acknowledges that things will block our way, that our path through life will not always be easy, sometimes the road will be hard and dangerous. It doesn’t say that God will make the road of life smooth for the faithful. Bad and difficult things will come, but we encounter them with His protection. In those situations, if we call to God, He will answer, He will protect, He will deliver.
But, notice that the psalm is not a litmus test of faith. Being able to tread on adders, lions and serpents is not a sign of God’s favour. Sometimes we will step on an adder as it were, a lion will leap out at us unprepared - tragedy and danger will come even to those who love God. But, God is there. Talk of long life is, therefore, is not about avoiding tragic death because of our faith, rather it is a metaphor for God’s blessing, of his favour, of His presence and love.
God says he will do all of this for those who love Him and for their communities. These words, therefore, are very contemporary and ones of all-encompassing hope to the tense streets of our capital, to communities frightened about their identity because of the presence of others, but also to those of us concerned about what a nationalist politics might bring to the international stage or how we might walk forward when confronted by personal tragedy or illness and to all of us who keep this holy season as a time dedicated to deepening our love of the One who watches over us: keep walking; keep loving and trusting God. He is there.