THE RIGHT PRAISE OF THE TRUE GOD
A Psalm of David. Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. Ascribe to the LORD the glory due His name; worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness. Psalm 29:1-2
KING DAVID, the author of our psalm, never saw the temple, but his inspired words became an important part of Israel's worship. His psalm is not only confession of one true God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but it is liturgy as well. Then as now it is the divine Word that comprised both the content and power of Israel's worship. Then as now worship is nothing other than God's Word on the lips of His people so that they might know how to be orthodox, that is to say, so that they might know how to praise their Savior aright, but the problem is that we cannot be orthodox unless we are "begotten from above" as Jesus explains to Nicodemus; begotten "by water and the Spirit," which is to say by baptism. These are the"unclean lips" Isaiah bemoans when he comes face to face with the One who is holy and "lifted up." The prophet is not talking about the sins of the tongue, but about the sinful heart (from which all other sins proceed) that prevents him from confessing Christ as Lord, so he cries out, "Woe is me!" which was the exclamation used at funerals, so what Isaiah is really saying here is, "I'm dead!" He recognizes that due to his fallen condition there is no hope for him -- except there is, for Isaiah and for all who are born of sinful flesh, but take note please what exactly that hope is, and who it is that provides it! It is not Isaiah himself, neither is it you yourself, but holy Scripture says, "Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar, and he touched my mouth and said, "Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for."
The early church fathers understood this to mean nothing else than the blessed sacrament of holy communion. "This is my body given for you, for the remission of sins," and we must do the same. We must understand that it is no mistake that the church from earliest times embedded Isaiah's words in her communion liturgy! Amazingly enough the earliest recorded liturgy, the liturgy of Addai and Mari, did not include the words of institution, but it did include the Sanctus. So when the church sings these words with lips now purified by the blood of Jesus, she is participating in the true praise of the true God into which her members are baptized. You are those members! She is factually in league, not with the things of earth, or with the Destroyer of souls, or with the lust of the eyes, or the pride of life, or the gospel of tablets and tattoos, but with the "heavenly beings" of our psalm, and with Isaiah's Seraphim who came to life in the temple one remarkable day! This is company worth keeping!
Yes, "participate," is the right word, for the Christian faith is not merely a body of doctrinal formulations to which one gives his assent, and calls that faith. There is doctrine to be sure, and the doctrine of the Trinity is a glorious one, a cherished one, one that took the church 300 years to formulate from about 100 A.D. to 400 A.D. before the church finally settled on a common faith, and serviceable language to teach men who God is and what He does; language such as we possess in the Athanasian Creed confessed here this day. Finally entrance into life is not attained by doctrinal exam in spite of the last verse of the Athanasian Creed, but by faith in the crucified Lord and by baptism into His death and resurrection, for these two, trust and baptism, always go together and what God hath joined together, let not quack theologians put asunder.
The doctrine of the Trinity is not merely a verbal formulation, but is something that is professed by living the baptismal life, first by receiving the church's sacrament of holy baptism, thereafter to be baptized into the baptism with which the Lord himself was baptized, that is, the cross!
Unlike the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, our crosses have no atoning benefit or merit, and why should they since the Lord died once and for all! Yet, like St. Paul, we "die daily." That is to say, each Christian must take up his cross and follow Jesus, First by waging relentless war against the ever present temptation to live like swine; secondly by the patient acceptance of life's trials whatever their composition might be: illness, poverty, sorrow, loss, or disappointment. These are inevitable, and the pursuit of the soft life is not a Christian virtue, but instead the Christian life is composed of sacrifice, patient suffering, and above all Godly hope.
St. Peter admonishes the church in this manner: Beloved do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you, to test you, as though something strange were happening to you, but rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.
Here St. Peter grounds us in Christian reality, even as he reminds us that the same Spirit who descended upon the Lord at His baptism is your possession also, by virtue of your baptism, in the name of the Triune God, so as the Lord's baptized, we glorify God along with the heavenly beings, and the seraphim glorify Him in the body of the church by true faith and in our own bodies by a true life. Amen
Rev. Dean Kavouras