In the thirty day lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer psalms 50, 51 and 52 are appointed to be read at Morning Prayer on the tenth day. In preparation for the office today I have reviewed the origins and purposes of each of these psalms as stated in the footnotes of the New Oxford Annotated Bible, Revised Standard Version, Oxford University Press, 1977 along with a biography of Alexander Crummell whose life and ministry is venerated today.
Psalm 50 is called a “liturgy of divine judgement”. In v 1–6 God is coming to judge his people and in 7-23 to arraign the nation. In 8-13 the people have brought sacrifices in abundance but this is not what God wants. In 14-15 His demand rather is for thanksgiving and prayer. In 16 -21 the people have violated God’s law by tolerating evil and indulging in slander.
This psalm contains a number of examples of parallelism, or thought rhyme, which is characteristic of Hebrew poetry particularly in the psalms. Verse 1 exhibits the synonymous form of parallelism which involves the use of two lines or stichs in a kind of reflection one of another. It is a way of expressing the same thought in a different way:
The Lord, the God of God’s has spoken,
he has called the earth from the rising of the sun to
The synonymous form is also demonstrated in several of the verses from 8 through 21.
Psalm 51 is a Prayer for healing and moral renewal. 1-2 is a prayer for deliverance. While v.8 sets out that the psalmist’s problem is illness the thrust is aimed at restoration of moral, rather than merely physical health. 3-5 contains a confession of the psalmist that his nature has been sinful even from the moment of conception. 6-12 contains a renewed prayer for deliverance. V.7 contains a reference to a ceremony involving sprinkling but as the note points out only in the metaphorical sense. In 13-17 the vow is to instruct others and to praise and serve God rather than to offer sacrifice. V. 14 contains a prayer for the delivery from bloodguiltiness, or rather, death. 18-19 is a later addition designed to modify the anti-sacrificial spirit of the pre-ceding verses and to adapt the psalm to liturgical use
Again if you look at v. 18 there is a perfect example of synonymous parallelism:
The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Psalm 52 shows God’s imminent judgement against a tyrant (a lament)which is a prayer for deliverance in the form of a denunciation of the psalmist’s enemy. 1-4: sets out the character of the psalmist’s enemy. 5-7: Retribution is about to befall the psalmist’s enemy. 8: The psalmist is confident of his own deliverance. 9: sets out the vow.
Alexander Crummell was born in New York City on March 3, 1819. He was a man who struggled against racism all of his life. According to Holy Women, Holy Men as a young man he was driven out of an academy in New Hampshire, dismissed as a candidate for Holy Orders in New York and rejected for admittance to general Seminary. Ordained in 1844 as a priest in the Diocese of Massachusetts, he left for England after being excluded from participating in diocesan convention.
After receiving a degree from Cambridge he went to Liberia as a missionary. The African race, Crummell believed possessed a “warm, emotional and impulsive energy” which had been corrupted by oppression. He felt that the Episcopal Church was an especially fitting place for the spiritual regeneration of African Americans due its emphasis on rational and moral discipline.
His ministry consisted of his mission to and about Liberia. He felt that I Liberia a model Christian Republic was possible. He envisioned a combination of European education and technology with traditional African communal culture under-girded by a national Episcopal Church led by a black bishop.
Despite his efforts to establish a national Episcopal Church in Liberia political opposition and loss of funding forced him to return to the United States. He then concentrated his efforts on establishing a strong urban presence of independent black congregations that would be centers of worship, education and social service. When Southern Bishops proposed that a separate missionary district for black congregations be created Crummell created a national convocation to fight the proposal from which sprang the Union of Black Episcopalians.
With his ministry spanning more than half a century Crummell and ranging over three continents Crummell labored to prepare his people and to build institutions that would serve them and provide scope for the exercises of their gifts in leadership and creativity. Crummell’s perception was that the Church transcended racism and the limited vision of its leaders. He had an unfailing belief in the goodness and greatness of black people which is the legacy of this African-American pioneer.