By Derek Weber
Week 3 – Psalm 95 (NRSV)
March 15, 2020
O come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! 2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! 3 For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods. 4 In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. 5 The sea is his, for he made it, and the dry land, which his hands have formed. 6 O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker! 7 For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. O that today you would listen to his voice! 8 Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, 9 when your ancestors tested me, and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work. 10 For forty years I loathed that generation and said, "They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they do not regard my ways." 11 Therefore in my anger I swore, "They shall not enter my rest."
Week 3: Worship and Bow Down
There are many words throughout the Bible that are translated as worship. Many of them involve bodily movement of some sort. The worship posture described often in the Hebrew scriptures is face down on the ground. The psalmist this week tells us to bow, and to kneel. Worship is not just, or even primarily, a head thing. It is a whole body thing; we pour ourselves out in worship. We enter the worship space and nothing else matters but the community who gathers and the God we worship. We worship, not to neglect the world, but to remember the Creator of the world who sends us out to live and love that world and all who dwell in it. But in this moment, in this “ain’t got long” moment, we steal away to Jesus.
Suggested Spiritual: “Steal Away”
The third week of Lent is an appropriate time to take a breath and give God thanks for this gift. What gift, some might be asking? The gift of intense spiritual scrutiny? The gift of honest confession and awareness of sinfulness? The gift of penance and spiritual discipline? Well, yes. All of that is a part of the Lenten experience and therefore necessary to the soul’s preparation; therefore, we can be thankful for that grace at work in our lives. And we can be thankful that there is a community of faith that surrounds us as we do this important work.
But this week, there is another gift that needs to be acknowledged: the gift of worship, which is a little oasis in the penitential season of Lent. It is supposed to be a refuge, a solace in an intense time. But it doesn’t have to be a place of somber silence all the time. Silence is good, and we certainly don’t get enough of it in this loud and busy world. Presenting Lent, however, as a dreary re-enactment of contrition and sorrow for sin does not reflect the true nature of this journey.
Psalm 95 begins in exuberance. We’re called to sing, and for those non-singers among us, we make a noise. A joyful noise, the croaking of frogs accompanying the sweet sounds of the birds, all are called to come into God’s presence with joy. Does this seem alien to our usual Lenten observance? Perhaps, but it is not out of the realm of possibility, even in this season of introspection and confession. The psalm manages to incorporate both the call to joyous expression and praise and the call to return into right relationship with God. These are not mutually exclusive experiences of faith. Remember the famous troubling verse at the ascension of Christ? “When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted” (Matthew 28:17). Our struggles need not keep us from joyous worship of God. Our journey inward can be a journey outward at the same time. It is inward to examine the state of our soul and beg God’s mercy on our sinfulness; outward, to embrace the grace and mercy of God in worship with joy.
We can steal away to Jesus, because God is calling. We can embrace the fullness of God’s acceptance and love even as we struggle to take the steps of repentance and contrition on this Lenten journey.
Steal away, steal away / steal away to Jesus! / Steal away, steal away / I ain’t got long to stay here.
Stay where? Is this an invitation to think about heaven, about leaving this earth for the glorious pearly gates? Well, that element was certainly present in the spirituals. The music pointed to a world that many would see only after death. But that’s not the whole story, and some would argue not even the significant part of the story of the spirituals. Steal away was a call to take the risk to grasp freedom, and that the Lord desires that freedom for the enslaved soul.
My Lord, He calls me / He calls me by the thunder / The trumpet sounds within my soul / I ain’t got long to stay here.
The darkness of night and the passing storm aren’t just natural phenomena; they represent the voice of God calling toward freedom. The “here” is a life of bondage. Who would want to stay “here” when offered something else?
Psalm 95 calls us to freedom, the freedom of joyous worship and the freedom of abiding in the rest of the Lord, which is wholeness and reconciliation with God and neighbor. Unlike those at Massah and Meribah, we don’t look at the wonder of what God has done and is doing in and through us and turn our backs, return to a life of slavery. No, we embrace the freedom God gives us to worship joyously, even in the midst of Lent.
Selah is a rest, and so this whole series is about finding our way into the blessed rest of the kin-dom of God, within the family of God’s people. So, invite your people to come into God’s presence with thanksgiving and to make a joyful noise with songs of praise.