Into your hands, O Lord
Into your hands, O Lord I commend my spirit.
For you have redeemed me, Lord God of truth.
Reflection: John Halliwell
The verse from Psalm 31:5 is quoted by Luke 23:46 as among the last words of Jesus on the cross; it focuses on the serenity of Christ in the face of death. Luke translates Jesus’ native Aramaic for his own audience of Greek-reading Gentiles. Luke’s view of Christ’s submission to God on the cross is a model for all Christians, particularly during a pandemic which emphasises our sense of powerlessness and corresponding dependency on God.
The text of this antiphon used at Compline has accompanied me throughout confinement as I join other members of Holy Trinity Brussels in celebrating Night Prayer, a tradition which goes back to the monastic rule of Saint Benedict. The plainsong setting, which can be heard in the recording, is printed in Music for Common Worship VI Night Prayer: Compline and is included with the permission of the Royal School of Church Music.
Parts of the Psalm were used last week in the liturgy of ordination in the Diocese of Europe. They reinforce the need for God's help in our ministry: ‘You cannot bear the weight of this calling in your own strength, but only by the grace and power of God’. This concludes with the exhortation to ‘Pray earnestly for the gift of the Holy Spirit’.
The rest of the psalm mingles lament and expressions of confidence as part of a petition for God’s help. The speaker is realistic about his need for God’s guidance in adversity and the phrase ‘guide me and lead me for your name’s sake’ is reminiscent of the intimate relationship with God described in Psalm 23:
In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge;
let me never be put to shame;
deliver me in your righteousness.
Incline your ear to me;
make haste to deliver to me.
Be my strong rock, a fortress to save me,
for you are my rock and my stronghold; guide me and lead me for your name’s sake.
Take me out of the net that they have laid secretly for me, for you are my strength.
Into your hands I commend my spirit,
for you have redeemed me, O Lord God of truth.
(Psalm 31: 1-5)
The psalm culminates in a song of thanksgiving for the help which has been received, as the individual exhorts others who wait for the Lord to be strong and take courage. It is my nightly prayer that the antiphon will continue to accompany me from my own ordination next year to my final destination. In the Taizé tradition, John Michael Talbot’s ‘Father I put my life in your hands’ (1997) was composed for the funeral of Brother Roger in 2005.
I hope listeners will enjoy a polyphonic setting of the antiphon by Canadian-born composer David Creese, which was originally published by Encore Publications in 2000 for SATB. It was rearranged for Men’s Voices on the occasion of my wedding to Emma at Gloucester Cathedral in 2005. This private recording is used with the composer’s permission.
Listen to one of the settings, or read the antiphon.
 Music for Common Worship VI Night Prayer: Compline, ed. John Harper (RSCM Press, 2005).
Into your hands