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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Friday, May 5, 2017

Today’s Scripture Reading | Psalm 96           

O sing to the Lord a new song;
   sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, bless his name;
   tell of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
   his marvelous works among all the peoples.
For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
   he is to be revered above all gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are idols,
   but the Lord made the heavens.
Honor and majesty are before him;
   strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.

Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
bring an offering, and come into his courts.
Worship the Lord in holy splendor;
tremble before him, all the earth.

Say among the nations, “The Lord is king!
The world is firmly established; it shall never be moved.
He will judge the peoples with equity.”
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
let the field exult, and everything in it.
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
before the Lord; for he is coming,
for he is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with his truth. (NRSV)

As a member of youth choral groups, I clocked many hours in my church’s choir loft, where we took our task as young worship leaders seriously: Sit up straight. Smile! Look up at the congregation. Project your voices. Make a joyful noise! So I was always struck by what happened during the responsive readings, particularly with glorious psalms like this one. No matter how uplifting the minister’s voice, the congregation would respond in a low, lumbering, lifeless tone. I spent far too much time as a child wishing the adult church members could step it up a bit. Speak those stanzas with gusto. Let the words rise up joyously.

Not so easy, that. Each of us comes to church with joys and concerns. Who wants to tempt fate by releasing a happy proclamation into a bitter or challenging world? Who wants to stand out as that edgy kook who reads an ancient poem just a bit too enthusiastically? It is enough—it truly is enough—to speak these words in calm devotion. Even so, this is a psalm of celebration. It contains a Messianic promise that the Lord will come to judge the earth with righteousness and his peoples with truth. If we allow it, the very reading of these words can draw us up into a spirit of rejoicing.

Every once in a while, a memory of that youthful character from the choir loft will reach across the decades and, with more than a little mirth, will ask, “Are you saying it like you mean it?” And I will straighten up, and smile, and lift up my voice to join the happy chorus.

Lord, we thank you for ancient psalms that invite us to unleash praise of thee—a praise so profound that even when our voices falter, the very stones will cry out. Amen.

Written by Sarah Forbes Orwig, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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