In the standard cycle of Psalms for every morning and evening of the month, the 11th day’s morning begins with Psalm 56. Although this cycle of Psalm-praying was established centuries before the Great War, let alone the institution of Remembrance Day or Veterans Day, Psalm 56 turns out to be a poignant read on this national observance.
BE merciful unto me, O God, for man goeth about to devour me; * he is daily fighting, and troubling me.
2 Mine enemies are daily at hand to swallow me up; * for they be many that fight against me, O thou Most Highest.
3 Nevertheless, though I am sometime afraid, * yet put I my trust in thee.
4 I will praise God, because of his word: * I have put my trust in God, and will not fear what flesh can do unto me.
5 They daily mistake my words; * all that they imagine is to do me evil.
6 They hold all together, and keep themselves close, * and mark my steps, when they lay wait for my soul.
7 Shall they escape for their wickedness? * thou, O God, in thy displeasure shalt cast them down.
8 Thou tellest my wanderings; put my tears into thy bottle: * are not these things noted in thy book?
9 Whensoever I call upon thee, then shall mine enemies be put to flight: * this I know; for God is on my side.
10 In God’s word will I rejoice; * in the LORD’S word will I comfort me.
11 Yea, in God have I put my trust; * I will not be afraid what man can do unto me.
12 Unto thee, O God, will I pay my vows; * unto thee will I give thanks.
13 For thou hast delivered my soul from death, and my feet from falling, * that I may walk before God in the light of the living.
What we see here is a marvelous expression of trust in the Lord God. It is a prayer that recognizes the threat of enemies on every side, threatening to “devour me”. It is a prayer that admits “I am sometime afraid.” The enemy mistakes the praying person’s words, they mark his steps, they lay traps. Of course, the intended application of this prayer is not meant to be restricted to those living a martial lifestyle; the common trope of “enemies” in the Psalm is a placeholder for all manners of evils, not the least of which are the evil inclinations within one’s own heart. But the serviceman or woman is among the relative few who may learn to take this sort of prayer in one of its most literal senses.
On Veterans Day the state (and in attentive sympathy, the Church) invites us to reach out in respect to those who have put themselves in danger. Although Psalm 56 comes up in the Church’s daily prayers every month, in November perhaps we can offer it up to our Lord with a particular ear to the prayer of those whose lives are (or have been) in danger. As we will also pray tomorrow:
O King and Judge of the nations: We remember before you with grateful hearts the men and women of our armed forces, who in the day of decision ventured much for the liberties we now enjoy; grant that we may not rest until all the people of this land share the benefits of true freedom and gladly accept its disciplines; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, now and forever. Amen.