Covid-19 encounters Psalm 91

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, April 2, 2020

For nearly 20 years my wife and I have been part of four couples who meet periodically for Bible study and fellowship. This past weekend we were scheduled to begin the topic, “Praying the Psalms.” Guess what? Yup! Our treasured time together got covid-19ed!

But one psalm in particular had the last laugh. Just a few days before we were supposed to meet, I received a response to last week’s column on light amidst the darkness. Calgary coffee companion Sandy Corenblum’s email contained only one thing: the words of Psalm 91:

“He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust.  Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence. He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler. Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; Nor for the pestilence….” (Ps. 91:1–6 KJV)

Pestilence? That’s exactly what a pandemic is!

When I enquired of Sandy about her unusual email, she said, “Passover begins Apr. 8, and it is a time of joy and connection.”

But “these are dark times” for her, she added. The recent passing of her mother and the imposed self-isolation brought about by the covid-19 pandemic have put a damper on things. Sharing Psalm 91 gives her a way “to go forward and celebrate the Passover in a meaningful way.”

Of course, Passover! That first Passover in ancient Egypt also involved folks isolating themselves for protection. Following God’s instructions, each Israelite family isolated themselves within their home while the plague of Death stalked the land, passing over the Israelite homes and launching their exodus for the Promised Land.

Psalm 91 recalls that momentous deliverance.

Intrigued by the Passover connection, I contacted Sandy’s former rabbi, Shaul Osadchey, now living in Houston, Texas. The longtime contributor to these columns responded:

“One of the most dramatic aspects of the Passover narrative is the appearance of the 10 plagues that God brought upon the Egyptians as punishment for not freeing the Israelite slaves,” the former head rabbi at Calgary’s Beth Tzedec Synagogue said. “Every year at the Passover table, the plagues are recited and their modern equivalents are discussed. No doubt this year our attention will turn to the plague of covid-19.”

Psalm 91 is a regular part of a Jewish funeral, he added. We may not be able to escape the grave, “but when we follow the path of righteousness – helping others by being compassionate and merciful – then regardless of what the consequences are in this world, we will enjoy being protected under the wings of the Most High for eternity. So, despite fear and anxiety, we are encouraged to act in a Godly manner and it will uplift us and those around us.”

This uplifting love of Psalm 91 is not limited to the Jewish community. It is one of the most beloved psalms among Christians, too. When I asked Leona Poucette, one of our Stoney Nakoda readers, what her experience has been with that psalm, she responded with deep conviction:

“My family and I memorized it in 2015 when (the Lord) showed me in a dream that something was coming that’s going to affect the whole world, and that I should start teaching it to my kids and husband.”

How prophetic! Thanks, Leona, Sandy and Rabbi Shaul. I’ll give Leona the closing word:

“Tell everybody to start saying Psalm 91 every single day and to memorize it and to teach their children and grandchildren.”


© 2020 Warren Harbeck

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