Psalm 150 – Praising God

Psalm 150 by Hope G. Smith

Shout praises to the Lord!
    Praise God in his temple.
    Praise him in heaven,
    his mighty fortress.
Praise our God!
    His deeds are wonderful,
    too marvelous to describe.

Praise God with trumpets
    and all kinds of harps.
Praise him with tambourines
    and dancing,
    with stringed instruments
    and woodwinds.
Praise God with cymbals,
    with clashing cymbals.
Let every living creature
praise the Lord.
    Shout praises to the Lord! (CEV)

There is a time for quiet reflection and contemplation, and there is a time for jubilant shouts of praise. The biblical psalms mirror the full range of human emotion. Having moved through the ups and downs of doubt, curiosity, anger, lament, and trust, it is appropriate that the psalter ends with lots of joyful noise.

I grew up in a generation where children were expected to be quiet in church. Not surprisingly, as a child, I found the church worship service on Sunday to be the most boring hour of my week. After a Saturday of morning cartoons, sugary cereal, All-Star Wrestling, and playing outside in the dirt with my brother, Sunday morning was typically a big letdown.

All I have to say about that, and about cranky old women shushing kids in church, is that the adults somehow forgot to read Psalm 150. Maybe if us big people were better about encouraging our little people to dance in the aisles, blow a kazoo as loud as they can, and freely give a shout to the Lord, then perhaps there would be a lot fewer defections from church worship services.

“Praise is the rehearsal of our eternal song. By grace we learn to sing, and in glory we continue to sing. What will some of you do when you get to heaven, if you go on grumbling all the way? Do not hope to get to heaven in that style. But now begin to bless the name of the Lord.”

Charles Haddon Spurgeon

But don’t think I’m advocating going all out noise, all the time. Just as it is neither necessary nor appropriate to always shout everything you say, and skip everywhere you go, so the worship of God needs to encompass the broad scope of the human condition. Silence, meditation, and stillness have their important place. In a desire to make church fun, some Christians have created imbalanced experiences of only victory in Jesus.

One of the reasons I follow the Christian Year with its liturgical movements is that it holds and maintains the balance of worship and the theological tension of both crucifixion and resurrection. We need healthy rhythms of sorrow and joy, stillness and movement, quietness and shouting.

The Church is currently in the Christian season of Eastertide. It is a focused time of celebration – which is why we have biblical sections in this time of year like Psalm 150. This is the appropriate time to lift loud praise to God for the risen Christ and celebrate salvation and new life in Jesus.

I’m not really a numbers kind of guy, yet its easy to notice the word “praise” occurs 10 times in a psalm of just 6 verses. And 7 musical instruments are mentioned. Methinks we’re supposed to not miss something here.

“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.”

hebrews 13:15, NIv

Praise is to happen in heaven and earth, in all creation, out in the world as well as inside the walls of the church building. It is to be done with voice, dance, drums, horns, woodwinds, and stringed instruments. Because God has done wonderful and marvelous acts throughout the earth, people are to respond with profuse gratitude expressed with lots of emotion.

Just so you know, that means sourpuss Christians who wrongheadedly believe human feelings ought to be stuffed and suppressed, need some remedial theological education about who God is and exactly what he expects from people. Somebody, please dispense the laxative of Psalm 150 to loosen their spiritual constipation!

God gave us our breath, and we are to use it for praise. If we see the entire book of Psalms as a life, then it is fitting the final psalm ends with sanguine praise. Indeed, when a person is at end of life, do they have reason to praise? A life of walking with God through thick and thin will inevitably end with recounting the ways in which the Lord has shown up and delivered. They want musical praise filling their last days and minutes.

That is exactly what Duke Ellington did in the twilight of his life. On January 19, 1968, Ellington performed a concert of sacred music at St. John the Divine cathedral in New York City. Among the original songs he performed and later recorded was his musical interpretation of Psalm 150. He called it “Praise God and Dance.”

Duke Ellington said that this praise music, and the two other albums of sacred music he recorded, were “the most important thing I have ever done.” When Ellington performed “Praise God and Dance” at the ancient Church of Santa Maria del Mar in Barcelona, Spain, the congregation spontaneously burst into the aisles with dancing and singing.

The whole person is to be involved in praise – mind, body, emotions, and spirit – because God is Lord of all of us, not just the spiritual dimension.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises. Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody. With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord. (Psalm 98:4-6, NRSV)

I will bless you every day. I will praise your name forever and always. The Lord is great and so worthy of praise! God’s greatness can’t be grasped. (Psalm 145:2-3, CEB)

Praise the Lord! My whole being, praise the Lord. I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing praises to my God as long as I live. (Psalm 146:1-2, NCV)

Shout praises to the Lord! Our God is kind, and it is right and good to sing praises to him. (Psalm 147:1, CEV)

Amen.

1 Peter 4:1-8 – Holy Saturday

The death of Christ, Holy Hill, Hubertus, Wisconsin

Christ suffered here on earth. Now you must be ready to suffer as he did because suffering shows that you have stopped sinning. It means you have turned from your own desires and want to obey God for the rest of your life. You have already lived long enough like people who don’t know God. You were immoral and followed your evil desires. You went around drinking and partying and carrying on. In fact, you even worshiped disgusting idols. Now your former friends wonder why you have stopped running around with them, and they curse you for it. But they will have to answer to God, who judges the living and the dead. The good news has even been preached to the dead, so that after they have been judged for what they have done in this life, their spirits will live with God.  Everything will soon come to an end. So be serious and be sensible enough to pray.  Most important of all, you must sincerely love each other, because love wipes away many sins. (CEV)

I haven’t been a confessing Christian my entire life. I can relate to Peter’s exhortation. I still remember what it feels like to live my life without any thought to God or spiritual matters. The thing about partying and immorality is that it’s a life filled with constant movement. Slowing down only makes one come face-to-face with what is truly inside the soul. 

If someone has an empty vacuous soul, or a damaged spirit, or a broken heart, then attempting to drink or work away the inner pain makes sense when there’s no regard for God. The last thing I ever wanted to do was suffer, yet until I had my spiritual awakening, it seemed I could never outrun the hurt no matter how hard I tried, even with all the constant locomotion.

Today is Holy Saturday – a quiet place sandwiched between the ignominy of the cross and the celebration of resurrection – a day of solitude, silence, and stillness. This is something of a lost day for many folks. In fact, many Christians haven’t had a thought that Holy Saturday could have any significance. Yet, this very day has its place in the scheme of the Christian life.

There cannot be resurrection and new life without death and dying to self. There must be suffering before there can be glory. Whenever Christians quickly jump to triumphal language about victory and speak little-to-nothing about suffering, then we are left with a cheap grace which has been purchased with the counterfeit currency of velocity. 

Today is meant for us to get out of our heads and wrap our hearts around the important reality that Jesus Christ was in the grave. It was real suffering on Good Friday. It was a real death on Holy Saturday. There is no movement. All is silent and still. Jesus is in the solitude of a dark tomb. There’s no getting around it. If we want a Resurrection Day with all its celebration and glory, then we cannot circumvent Holy Saturday. 

To put this in the spirit of the Apostle Peter: Are we ready to follow Jesus and suffer as he did?  Are we willing to stop our striving, manifested through constant movement, and embrace the Holy Saturday of solitude, silence, stillness with its contemplation and embrace of suffering?  Will you and I have sense enough to pray?  Will we practice a Christian counter-cultural shift and face the ridicule of friends so that we might take some much-needed time to be with Jesus in the tomb?  Or are we so antsy and anxious that we just want to leap into Easter with no solidarity with our Lord in the grave?

You may think I’m being a bit too hard or harsh or cold…. That’s because Jesus is cold. He has a bonified cold dead body. It’s no fake death. There’s no “swoon theory” here, as if Christ only passed-out and did a weird divine fainting spell. Nope. He’s dead. And if you and I want to live with Jesus, we must die with Jesus. 

Anyone who tries to promise new life apart from journeying with Jesus into the grave is a spiritual charlatan.  Only through death can there be life. 

On this Holy Saturday, let’s intentionally slow down, do less, give ourselves a large chunk of unstructured time, and put aside routine matters. Fill the time with unfettered access to God in Christ. Slowly read the Gospel accounts of Christ’s death and burial. Read the book of 1 Peter. Allow prayers to arise from the careful and mindful reading of Scripture. Feel the solidarity with Jesus, journey with him along the way from life to death… so that there might be a truly glorious resurrection filled with abundant life and flourishing – a life that doesn’t need hedonism and workaholism to feel happy and significant.

May you die well so that you might live well.

Loving Lord Jesus, today all is silent. You died a horrific death and gave incredible mercy from your wounded heart. Now you rest in the tomb as the soldiers keep vigil. I also keep vigil, although in a quite different way. I know this day doesn’t last forever; there is tremendous glory coming. Yet, for now I sit quietly mourning your death. Assist me, God Almighty, to enter the sorrow and the silence of this Holy Saturday. Today, help me to wait patiently and to sit with this constellation of emotions swirling around my heart. As I keep this sacred vigil, fill me with hope – not only looking forward to the celebration of your Resurrection – yet also to anticipate the hope of my own share in the new life you offer, as you lay lifeless and still. May your rest transform the brokenness of my own soul, my weaknesses, and my sin. I express my trust, O God, in your mighty power to do all things through Jesus Christ, my Lord, your beloved Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

John 13:1-17, 31-35 – Maundy Thursday

Jesus Washes Peter’s Feet

It was before Passover, and Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and to return to the Father. He had always loved his followers in this world, and he loved them to the very end.

Even before the evening meal started, the devil had made Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, decide to betray Jesus.

Jesus knew that he had come from God and would go back to God. He also knew that the Father had given him complete power. So, during the meal Jesus got up, removed his outer garment, and wrapped a towel around his waist. He put some water into a large bowl. Then he began washing his disciples’ feet and drying them with the towel he was wearing.

But when he came to Simon Peter, that disciple asked, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus answered, “You don’t really know what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

“You will never wash my feet!” Peter replied.

“If I don’t wash you,” Jesus told him, “you don’t really belong to me.”

Peter said, “Lord, don’t wash just my feet. Wash my hands and my head.”

Jesus answered, “People who have bathed and are clean all over need to wash just their feet. And you, my disciples, are clean, except for one of you.” Jesus knew who would betray him. That is why he said, “except for one of you.”

After Jesus had washed his disciples’ feet and had put his outer garment back on, he sat down again. Then he said:

Do you understand what I have done? You call me your teacher and Lord, and you should, because that is who I am. And if your Lord and teacher has washed your feet, you should do the same for each other. I have set the example, and you should do for each other exactly what I have done for you. I tell you for certain that servants are not greater than their master, and messengers are not greater than the one who sent them. You know these things, and God will bless you, if you do them….

Now the Son of Man will be given glory, and he will bring glory to God. Then, after God is given glory because of him, God will bring glory to him, and God will do it very soon.

My children, I will be with you for a little while longer. Then you will look for me, but you won’t find me. I tell you just as I told the people, “You cannot go where I am going.” But I am giving you a new command. You must love each other, just as I have loved you. If you love each other, everyone will know that you are my disciples. (CEV)

Jesus Washing the Feet of His Disciple by Japanese artist Sadao Watanabe (1913-1996)

We all need to receive love and to give love. Without love, there is little to live for. Apart from love, relationships devolve into silent standoffs and destructive triangles. Indeed, with an absence of love the world ceases to spin on its axis.

Yet, where love is present all things are beautiful. Personal relations have meaning and joy. All seems right and just in the world.

Love, however, comes at a cost. Because we live in a broken world full of pride and hubris, greed, and avarice, hate and envy, we are victims of loveless systems and unjust actions. We need love to rescue us, to redeem us from the sheer muck of existence. It’s as if we are constantly walking knee deep through sludge so thick, we can barely get anywhere. We need saving. We need Jesus.

Christians everywhere around the world are journeying through Holy Week, the most sacred time of the year for followers of Christ. When we think about Holy Week, we are familiar with Good Friday and certainly Easter, but Maundy Thursday? 

On this day, the Church remembers the final evening Jesus shared with his disciples in the upper room before his arrest and crucifixion. The experiences in the upper room were highly significant because this was the last teaching, modeling, and instruction Jesus gave before facing the cross. Jesus was careful and deliberate to communicate exactly what was important to him: to love one another.

Maundy Thursday marks three important events in Christ’s Last Supper with his disciples: 

  • The washing of the disciples’ feet (the action of loving service)
  • The instituting of the Lord’s Supper (the remembrance of loving sacrifice)
  • The giving of a “new” commandment to love one another (the mandate of a loving lifestyle). 

For Jesus, his last night with the disciples was all about love, God’s love. On that fateful night, having loved his disciples for the past three years, Jesus showed them the full extent of his love by taking the posture of a servant and washing each one of the disciples’ feet, including Judas. After demonstrating for them humble service, Jesus said,

“I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:15, NIV). 

This was an incredible act of love. Jesus Christ loves me just as I am, and not as I should be. He loves me even with my dirty stinky feet, my herky-jerky commitment to him, and my pre-meditated sin. 

The Last Supper by Indian artist Francis Newton Souza (1924-2002)

Not only did Jesus wash the disciples’ feet, but he lifted the cup of wine and boldly asserted: 

“Take this and divide it among you.  For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”  And he took the bread, gave thanks, and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you, do this in remembrance of me.”  In the same way, after the supper he took the cup saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:17-20, NIV). 

Because of these words, the church throughout the world, for two millennia, have practiced this communion so that we might have the redemptive events of Jesus pressed firmly into our minds and our hearts by means of the visceral and common elements of bread and wine. We are to not just know about Jesus; we are to experience being united with him.

Having washed the disciples’ feet, and proclaiming to them the meaning of his impending death, Jesus gave them a clear commandment: 

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35, NIV)

Love one another, insisted Jesus, by imitating his humble service. We represent Christ on this earth when we carefully, diligently, and persistently practice love. Although love was not a new concept for the disciples, in the form and teaching of Jesus love was shown with four distinctions: 

  1. Jesus is the new model of love.
  2. A new motive of love, that Christ first loved me.
  3. A new motivator to help us love, the Holy Spirit.
  4. A new mission, the evangelization of the world, utilizing the power of Christ’s love to accomplish it.

Maundy Thursday is a highly significant day on the Church Calendar – one which deserves to be observed, and an opportunity to remember the important words and actions of Jesus on our behalf.  Through Jesus Christ we are to live always in love, modeling our life and church ministry after him. 

In Christ, love is to characterize our life together as we proclaim God’s love in both word and deed. A watching world will only take notice and desire to be a part of our fellowship if we are deeply and profoundly centered in the love of God in Christ. This is the reality Maundy Thursday brings to us.

“Holy Holy Week, Batman!”

Burt Ward as Robin and Adam West as Batman in the TV show that aired from 1966-1968

“Robin, there is something seriously sinister afoot.  It seems the people of Gotham have lost their sense of the story of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.” 

“Holy Holy Week, Batman!  It must be the work of that arch-villain the Joker who has turned the narrative of Jesus into a by-gone joke… or maybe the Riddler who has made the redemptive events of Jesus into a complicated riddle that no one can solve… or maybe that fiend, Cat Woman, has finally found the purr-fect way to foil attention to the Lord Jesus.”

“I fear, Boy Wonder, that you have stumbled upon who is behind the loss of Holy Week… they are all conspiring together not just to create a spin on the life and death of Jesus, but to form a new narrative that doesn’t even include Christ at all.”

“Those dastardly demons of disaster!  Let’s go get them, Batman!  How could they have done such an ugly underhanded umbrage as that!?”

“Let’s use the Bat computer to analyze the evidence found at the crime scene churches…. Look, Robin, it seems a feculent film of gross gas has rendered the believers prone to the noxious notion that the Christian observance of Holy Week is optional, as if the journey with Jesus to the cross doesn’t need special attention.  They are attempting to rewrite it all so that Christians will pass through this week without even a thought about Jesus… until it’s too late.  Then they will sweep in and make all of Christianity into something that’s merely an accessory to life, like a petty plastic purse.”

“Holy evisceration, Batman!  They’re trying to do away with the Christian life and the story of Jesus altogether and replace it with their fiendish focus on the foul festering faith of fecund followers!”

“That’s right, Robin.  It’s our job to stop them from following through with their platitudinous plot before it’s too late.”

“But how, Batman?  Their vile villainy has already voiced a vacuous votum of veneered viciousness to any observance of the last week of Christ’s life on this earth.”

“Yes, Robin, but you are forgetting the one “v” word which has already spelled doom for our culprits of crime… “victory.”

“Holy resurrection, Batman!  You’re right!  All we need to do is voice the victory of Jesus and those bungling bandits of belief will get another “v” word: “vanquished!”

“Holy Week and all the major Christian seasons of the Church Year are meant to help us remember Jesus and follow Christ in our daily life.  When strayed souls begin berating believers for observing obedience to Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy (or Black) Saturday, and Easter Sunday then you can bet, Boy Wonder, that the gangsters’ gross gas of gullibility has fumigated their faith.”

“So, you’re saying, Batman, that the forgetting of faith festivals can be reversed through setting our sites on the contempt of the cross and the resplendence of the resurrection?”

“The cross is the mid-point of history, Robin, the very center of faithful followers.  From it flows the flowering of all faith.”

“Holy forgiveness, Batman.  I see it now.  The sin issue has been taken care of once-for-all through the death of Jesus Christ.  And his rising again has enabled us ignorant idiots of ignominy to live a new life of love through the words and ways of Christ.”

“And, don’t forget, Boy Wonder, that we get our faith focused through walking into those ways and words by highlighting holidays as eminently important to our crowded calendars.”

“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, creator of heaven and earth; and, Jesus Christ his only Son, our Savior; who, with the Holy Spirit lives and reigns forever and ever!”  

“Amen, Boy Wonder.  Amen.”