Lost in Wonder, Love, and Praise

By Rev. Chris Jorgensen

November 3, 2019

Scripture: Psalm 30:4-12

There are various opinions among scholars about the details of why our psalmist wrote today’s psalm. If that word is unfamiliar to you, you can think of it a psalm as a prayer, but it is actually more like a hymn. These psalms were meant to be set to music and sung. In this psalm, it is undeniable that the psalmist has come through some kind of hardship and experienced a restoration of his hope. This movement from suffering to hope is recorded over and over again in this one psalm.

Weeping may linger for the night,” the psalmist writes, but “joy comes in the morning!”

You’ve turned my mourning into dancing!” he says. “You have taken off my mourning clothes and clothed me with joy!”

Some scholars believe this weeping was caused by an illness, but we really can’t be sure. What we can be sure of is that the psalmist experienced not just a restoration of his fortunes, but a radical reordering of his life. We see the key to this in verse six. The psalmist writes, “As for me, I said in my prosperity, ‘I shall never be moved.’” In other words, when the psalmist was prospering, when he was doing well, he thought he was invincible. He was doing so great, he thought nothing could get in his way. A scholar named J. Clinton McCann [1] says that he was relying on his own self-sufficiency. He had this false sense of security that he would continue to be prosperous by his own standards and through focusing his energies on himself and his own pursuits.

Well, our psalmist gets knocked off his horse. Despite all his own goodness and strength, he experiences some kind of serious setback. It might have been illness or grief or attack by an enemy. But in any case, he becomes dismayed. It’s so bad that he thinks he is going to die. He references going “down to the Pit” or “down to the grave.”

It’s at this lowest point, says another commentator named Kraus [2], we see the psalmist turn. He turns from concern about himself and his affairs to concern for praising God. He realizes, facing the Pit, facing death, that the worst thing that could happen to him was if he dies, he will no longer be able to praise God. His crisis helps him to realize that the whole point of his life is to praise God – and that’s when his mourning is transformed into dancing.

He says that God turned his mourning into dancing for one reason and one reason alone: “so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.” He has radically reordered his life. It has a new purpose. He says, “O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.” Notice: the psalmist’s joy does not come from getting back what he lost. We see here no report that his worldly fortunes were restored. He is trying to tell us that the cure for our sadness is not getting what we want – even if that thing we want is something good like our health or the return of a lost loved one or success in a worthy endeavor. He’s inviting us to engage with this hard reality: when we lose something or someone precious to us, many times we can’t get back what we have lost. But we can devote ourselves to the praise of God who gave us these good things to experience, these great people to love in the first place.

Today, as we celebrate All Saints here in our Christian tradition, there is even more good news: it is our own praise of God that connects us to those who have passed on fully into God’s presence. As I mentioned, you hear the psalmist talk about death. He talks about going down to Sheol, going down to the Pit. He despairs because in his conception of death, there is no lively afterlife. Sheol or death is the place where God can’t be praised.

To be clear, this shouldn’t be understood as a simple contrast between Jewish and Christian conceptions of the afterlife. There’s actually a variety of understandings of what happens after death in the Hebrew Bible (what we call the Old Testament). Some of those affirm a next life, and some don’t. Our psalmist, it appears, seems to be one of the people who see death as an end. Full stop.

But our Christian faith tells us that Christ destroyed death. Christ frees us from Sheol not so that we can eternally have whatever we want in some kind of materialistic paradise. Christ frees us from death so that we can praise God forever.

The Book of Revelation offers us this vision of eternal life with God as a life of never-ending praise. It includes one very interesting image in Revelation 4:10 of these 24 elders who cast their crowns before God so that they can join the chorus of praise. The elders take these crowns symbolizing their worldly power and wealth, and give them up, so that they can devote themselves to praising God. I see this as connected to the psalmist’s revelation, his new understanding, his decision to give up his own self-seeking and self-sufficient way of life and dedicate his life to praising God.

In this life, on this earth, we can dedicate our lives to praising God. This joins us to the people who have died and are praising God in every moment in eternal life. When we, even in the midst of our grief and pain, find a way to praise God in this life, we join our hearts and voices with those whose praise is no longer separated from God – those who exist fully in the presence of God. We join our voices with those who have died and risen with Christ that final time.

We join our voices with theirs every time we sing “Holy, Holy, Holy” in our communion liturgy with God’s church on earth and in heaven. In fact, we join our voices with all the saints every time we sing in this place. I want to share with you that since I have been at Hanscom Park church, you have helped me to grow in my desire for a life of nothing but continual praise of God – and you did it through song.

graphic showing charles wesleys love divine all love excelling lyrics

I had never heard the song “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” set to the tune of “The Rose” before I came here. There is something about Charles Wesley’s inspiring words being set to the tune of such a familiar song… and something about how Tracy and the choir sing and something about hearing all of our voices together that convinces me that when we sing it, we are not singing alone. We are singing with every voice that has ever been raised in this church, and in every church around the world, through all the generations, in love and praise of God.

It is a song I can sing in the depth of despair, at the height of joy, always attributing the source of all the good in my life to God. When I sing it, I feel like it gives me a glimpse of what it will be like when we are lost in wonder, love, and praise…when we are united with the saints that have come before us and living fully in the presence of God.

So I was wondering if you would sing with me today…as we imagine all our saints singing together?

Finish then thy new creation,

Pure and spotless let us be;

Let us see thy great salvation,

Perfectly restored in thee;

Changed from glory into glory,

Till in heaven we take our place,

Till we cast our crowns before thee,

Lost in wonder, love and Praise. [3]

Amen.

—–

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION

1) Who are you remembering and missing on this All Saints Day? What of them lives on in you? What did they model, show, or teach you that you carry with you to this day?

2) Have you ever had an experience that caused you to radically reorder your priorities like our psalmist did? What happened?

3) Is there a song or hymn that helps you to feel connected to all the saints who have come before you or encourages you to be lost in wonder, love, and praise of God?

 

REFERENCES

[1] McCann, J. Clinton, Jr. “Psalms.” The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, vol. 4. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996. p. 796.

[2] Kraus, H.J., Psalms 1-59: A Commentary. Minneapolis: Augsburg Press, 1988. p. 355.

[3] If you’ve never heard these words and this tune set together, you can listen to this instrumental version and sing the words to “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” along with it: https://youtu.be/H22d0VPryC4 (Lyrics available here: https://library.timelesstruths.org/music/Love_Divine_All_Loves_Excelling/)

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