Praise our God, all peoples,
let the sound of his praise be heard;
he has preserved our lives
and kept our feet from slipping.
For you, God, tested us;
you refined us like silver.
You brought us into prison
and laid burdens on our backs.
You let people ride over our heads;
we went through fire and water,
but you brought us to a place of abundance.
I will come to your temple with burnt offerings
and fulfill my vows to you—
vows my lips promised and my mouth spoke
when I was in trouble.
I will sacrifice fat animals to you
and an offering of rams;
I will offer bulls and goats.
Come and hear, all you who fear God;
let me tell you what he has done for me.
I cried out to him with my mouth;
his praise was on my tongue.
If I had cherished sin in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened;
but God has surely listened
and has heard my prayer.
Praise be to God,
who has not rejected my prayer
or withheld his love from me! (New International Version)
The Church’s Prayer Book
Those of us who utilize the Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings are familiar with having a psalm each day. In addition, the same psalm is repeated three consecutive days, following the pattern of Thursday, Friday, and Saturday readings preparing for Sunday – and Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday readings reflecting on Sunday. The Psalter has such a prominent place in the readings because it is viewed as the Church’s Prayer Book.
Within the book of Psalms, we have the full range of human experience and emotion. Much like athletes in weight training, putting in their reps (repetitions), so the Christian is to use the weighty Psalms with repeated use for spiritual growth and development. Prayer and praise, lament and celebration, are necessary equipment for the strengthening of faith and a healthy Christian life.
Psalms of Praise and Thanksgiving
Today’s psalm is a song of thanksgiving for the community of worshipers approaching the temple and offering their sacrifices to God. Together, as the people of God, they proclaim what God has done for them. Through hardship and difficulty, they have realized abundance and joy. Personal witness and testimony are given to the congregation for answered prayer so that all may rejoice together in God’s steadfast and unfailing love.
Expressing celebration is important. Without it, our spirits are famished and find it difficult to be patient and persevere. With celebration, our spiritual muscles flex with joy and are in shape for the trials and tribulations which lie ahead. Corporate affirmation and personal appreciation are meant to work together in a grand profession of faith in God’s good guidance and help.
“Come and listen and I will tell you what God did for me,” benefits both the individual and the group. If all we ever hear and experience is hardship, our faith muscle will be overused and give out. We need stories to celebrate. We need to hear testimonies of God’s enduring love.
So, what has God done for you? What celebrations do we have today? Are you willing to share your story?
Celebrations are necessary because they highlight the things most important to us. And it is okay to make them regular rituals – which is why I care about attending to the Christian Year with it’s centrality of Jesus and the movements of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter(tide), Ascension, Pentecost, and “Ordinary” Time.
Ritual celebration is, of course, not unique to Christianity. Rituals are part of being human. At it’s heart, ritual is a form of celebration, of remembering to observe significant events, special seasons, and daily routines. Each ritual observance is a re-telling of meaningful stories for an individual, family, or group of people.
Observing ritual celebrations:
- Re-enforces our values.
- Gives us a sense of belonging.
- Marks time for us in meaningful ways.
- Forms daily habits in us.
- Reminds of us of who we are and what our purpose in this world is.
- Helps us express our emotions in a healthy way.
- Adds new stories to our lives.
- Connects us to our spiritual ancestors and bonds us to one another.
- Builds close relationships and trust.
- Heals us from traumatic events.
Not observing ritual celebrations:
- Causes a lack of identity and purpose.
- Creates loneliness and confusion.
- Hollows out our lives and sucks our souls of joy.
Sharing stories, and paying attention to rituals, are a primary connection between the individual and the community, a place where our identities and our values are reinforced and transformed into a force for good in the world.
Both the smallest and biggest of celebrations are appropriate, along with everything in between. While writing at my desk, a majestic male red wing blackbird perched himself on the bush in front of the window. Being only a few feet from him, I could see his feathers in detail and his glorious preening for the benefit of the females.
You are wonderful, Lord,
and you deserve all praise,
because you are much greater
than anyone can understand.
Each generation will announce
to the next your wonderful
and powerful deeds.
I will keep thinking about
your marvelous glory
and your mighty miracles.
Everyone will talk about
your fearsome deeds,
and I will tell all nations
how great you are.
They will celebrate and sing
about your matchless mercy
and your power to save. (Psalm 145:3-7, CEV)
On a much grander scale, today I gathered with a family at the bedside of their loved one to grieve his death, and to also remember and celebrate his life for the gift he had been to so many. Together we were able to say, “Let the whole world bless our God and loudly sing his praises.”
We pray. God answers. We rejoice. If we don’t rejoice in the company of others, then we eventually forget – which then makes the next hardship even harder.
The practice of telling our story is the means by which we come to understand our faith. Testimony not only declares what we believe, but is also the vehicle that shapes our belief. The psalmist issues an invitation for people to come and hear, and he will tell what God has done. The story, the psalmist’s testimony of faith, is a simple one, essentially saying: I prayed to God. God listened. God answered. Praise be to God! And I will now tell you about God.
Tell a Story
When the Bible speaks about God, it most often does so by telling a story of what God has done. The Bible, as a whole, follows the pattern of a story: creation, fall, redemption, and new creation.
Beginning in the Old Testament, we get stories of God’s creative activity, humanity’s fall into sin, and God’s response of covenant and promise. The Lord calls Abraham and Sarah and their ancestors to a special relationship with a special purpose to reclaim all the world to it’s intended design.
The story continues with the Exodus from Egypt, the giving of God’s divine commandments, the wandering in the wilderness, the conquest of the land, the monarchy and finally the exile.
The New Testament picks up the story, telling about Jesus as the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises and spelling out the meaning of his death and resurrection.
The book of Acts continues the grand story of redemption and of what God has done, climaxing in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. The apostles further the story by spreading good news of great joy: in Jesus Christ, there is grace, forgiveness, purpose, faith, hope, and love for all people everywhere.
In all the storytelling, remember to celebrate the mighty acts of God and declare what the Lord has done for you.
Creator God, because of your abundant love, you chose to bring light and order into the formless void, to create a world of unsurpassed beauty; and you saw that it was good. We ask that you continue to recreate the world with that same attentive love, to bring light into today’s ever increasing chaos and darkness. Replenish our hearts so that we too can renew the face of the earth, through Christ our Lord. Amen.