Sunday, April 17, 2016

Is praise of God becoming emotion-based and repetative?


Shout out to God all the earth! Sing aloud the glory of His name, compose songs concerning His glorious praise. Say to God, “So terrifying are your deeds! So great is your strength that your enemies cringe before you. Psalm 66:1-3

THE Psalm we just heard is the introit for Jubilate Sunday, which is the traditional name for the third Sunday after Easter. While the world gave a passing nod of recognition to our holiest season, we are not quite so anxious to let it slip away.

In the days of King Hezekiah God’s people had become so secular that the great Feast of Passover had not been celebrated for several centuries, but under Hezekiah’s reforms it was restored, so people from throughout the Land came to Jerusalem to celebrate it with renewed faith. For seven days they worshipped the Lord to commemorate the victories He gave their fathers over Egypt by sacrificing 1,000 bulls and 7,000 sheep, but when the seven days were over they did not want to stop, so they stayed another week, offering 1,000 more bulls and now 10,000 sheep in further praise of God’s salvation. Is it any wonder then that we celebrate the Passover of Gladness for 40 days, not with the blood of goats and bulls, but by receiving the holy sacrament to remit our sins, and restore the joy of salvation to us?

Speaking of introits let us also take a moment to remember the function of this ordinary liturgical element. “Introit” is Latin for “entrance” and marks the real beginning of our liturgy. While opening hymns have precedent, confession and absolution were historically done in private and had no attachment to the mass at all, so the introit marked the entrance of the celebrant and the true beginning of the divine service. The introit is almost always from the Old Testament and is always answered by the Kyrie in order to show that Christ is its fulfillment, that He is the One who unites all generations of saints -- old and new -- and makes them one. By the Kyrie we affirm that we too will be seated at the Messianic Banquet with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; with Solomon and the Queen of Sheba; with the believing centurion; with all the prostitutes and tax collectors who by faith in Christ were cleansed of their sins, and who will welcome us with great Jubilation.

While introits always sound a joyful note, today’s is especially so because it is an introit of the resurrection! From the earliest times the Greek version of Old Testament named it “a Psalm of the resurrection.” It is also exceptional because its author is unknown! In this respect it is like one of our greatest hymns, “Jesus Christ Is Risen today” whose author is also unknown. Imagine if you will a faithful Christian in the hazy past, unknowingly led by God’s Spirit to pen a hymn that would bring him no fame or fortune, but one that would, instead, impart joy to Christians for generations to come and teach them how to sing God’s praise in the most glorious of strains! Yes, there are many reasons to be jubilant today, so without further delay let us learn from this introit, this Psalm: who we are to praise, how we are to praise, and most importantly why we should worship our resurrected Lord with great Jubilation.

It may seem obvious to say that we should worship only God, that the whole earth should shout out praise to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit who is incomparable and who tolerates no rivals, but sadly these things are not so evident. Sin has blinded us, and has led us to worship ourselves, our passions, our pleasures, our institutions; nature, money, governments; and in short every flimsy scheme that promises some modicum of relief from the sin and death which take us to our graves, so today’s introit provides us with the much needed reminder: shout out to God all the earth.

Once we remember who to praise we must ask: how do we praise? How do we sufficiently honor the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has begotten again us unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead? What is the proper response for the great deliverance that Christ gained for us? In a word, dear Christians, it is faith. Faith is the highest form of worship there is, so that whenever the Gospel is purely taught, when Christ is the subject of every sentence, and doer of every verb, so that sinners believe and are sure that they are pardoned from every wrong, given fresh joy and new strength – then true worship occurs, then God is most highly glorified.

This introit also reminds us of another fact: that faith and music are inseparable. This is not the time to debate what is or is not acceptable music for the fitting worship of Christ, but suffice it to say that the church’s music must always be beautiful, reverent, thoughtful and orderly; that it must only access the higher emotions within us, and never the baser ones; and that it must glorify God rather than those performing it, which is why church musicians serve from the back of the sanctuary, and why all liturgical dancers will be shot on sight.

We have covered a lot of ground this Jubilate Sunday but before we conclude let us ask the most important question of all: Why should we praise God? So called “contemporary worship” loves to multiply words of adoration. They even call their services “praise services” (as if ours are not) and maintain that they learn this in the Psalms, but they overlook two vital elements: first, that Christ is the LORD of the Psalms! Secondly, that every utterance of praise in them is tied directly to a reason for it by the word “for.” We know this very well. “O give thanks unto the Lord.” Why? “for He is good, and His mercy endureth forever.” Or the 100th Psalm which enjoins us to serve the Lord, know the Lord, and enter His gates with thanksgiving. Why? “for the Lord is Good, His mercy is everlasting and His truth endures to all generations.”

Yes, by His sacrificial death and glorious resurrection Christ our dear Lord has caused sin and death to cringe before Him, and has given us utter victory over both, so we will not always be the poor miserable sinners we are now, who suffer the debilitating effects of our current condition. Instead we will soon enough receive glorified bodies like the Lord’s very own, along with a new voice and a new song, with which to sing endless praise to Christ our Passover Lamb in a world without end. Therefore with high delight, let us unite, in songs of Jubilation, now and always. Amen.

~Rev. Dean Kavouras

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