Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!
Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created.
He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.
Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!
Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!
Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!
Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and women alike, old and young together!
Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted;
his glory is above earth and heaven.
He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful,
for the people of Israel who are close to him.
Praise the Lord!
I have been fascinated this week by the words of praise offered by the Psalmist above… drawn almost viscerally to the images of everything from sea monsters and topography, weather and celestial bodies singing praises to God.
It got me thinking about praise, ultimately, and its role in Sunday worship. I know, at least for myself, that the first image that comes to mind when I hear the word praise is praise bands, conglomerations of too-happy pregnant women with one hand in the air as they sing and pimply teenagers rocking out to cheesy love songs for God, all in the name of contemporary and “lively” worship.
But praise has such a richer texture than my, and not doubt many others, gut reaction to the word. The word praise actually comes from the Old French preisier, which means “to value” or to set a price to something. Which I find interesting, since the word worship, from the anglo saxon wurdscip,traditionally indicated reverence given to something that is worthy, or worth its value. Taken together, then, the words praise and worship seem inseparable: Worship consists of praise, and praise is the essence of worship, which offers us a strong clue as to what we ought to be engaged in on Sundays. We ought to be praising God.
Of course, that sounds deceptively simple. Many of the things we do on Sunday seem obviously praise-y, while others are more difficult to connect to the concept. Add to that that each person finds meaning in different aspects of worship, and we arrive at a place where people are asking one another: if it is all meant to lead to praise, then why do we do the boring stuff, or the stuff that I don’t like?
Well here is where I like the Psalm above. The psalm doesn’t tell us what each part of creation does to offer praise, but it does offer a vision that I think is worth emulating in our worship: the value of both unity and diversity offered in the praise of God. Certainly mountains and sea monsters could not offer praise in the same way, and I imagine that the heavenly host’s means of praise is completely different from that of the snow and the frost. Nonetheless, when each offers their true voice to the project of praise, the harmony is strengthened. In a similar way, our worship offers innumerable ways for each worshipper to find a voice to praise God with. Whether that person needs to praise God for the act of gathering, or for the grace that comes with sin forgiven, or needs to be reminded by hearing the word, or simply wishes to belt out a hymn by literally singing, each aspect of worship is a path towards praise. They may not all work for every person every week, but the opportunity is there, waiting, every time we gather. And what is more, when we gather together we are reminded in song, in spoken word and in prayer that we do not praise God alone, but are joined by our neighbors and the heavenly choir which sing praise eternal. We can even find comfort in knowing that even the sea monsters sing with us.
Pretty awesome if you ask me.