An invitation to celebrate

A Reflection on Psalm 96.1-9 by Canon Rob,
October 22nd, The Twentieth Sunday after Trinity

One of the hymns we sing during the season of Epiphany, which follows Christmas and celebrates the Visit of the Three Kings to the infant Jesus, is “O Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.” [552 in the “Complete Anglican Hymns Old and New.”] It is a beautiful hymn and, as we sing it, we can imagine ourselves following the example of the Kings, as they kneel before the child who they recognise as the Saviour of the world. The opening words of the hymn come from the first half of verse 9 in today’s psalm: a psalm which is a call to the whole of nature to worship the Creator; although you will need to read all the verses to fully appreciate this. Those who attend Morning Prayer (or Matins) will be familiar with the previous psalm: number 95, called “The Venite,” which simply means “Come,” and Psalm 96 continues that theme. As you reflect upon the verses, you may like to read 1 Chronicles 16.23-33 in the Old Testament and you will find that the psalm is reproduced almost word for word – depending on which translation of the Bible you read. In the Book of Chronicles, the psalm was recited when the Ark of the Covenant was brought to Jerusalem whilst David was King. However, it is now generally agreed that the psalm was written first and then included in the Book. Whatever, Psalm 96 belongs to a group of what some commentators call “enthronement psalms” which celebrate the majesty of God and would be said, or sung, on special occasions. Indeed, if you look through Psalms 95 to 100, you will find that several phrases are common to all of them, rejoicing in the Kingship and Majesty of God who is worthy of our praise.

The Book of Psalms was originally written for worship by the members of the Jewish community and when we recite them, as we do during Evensong, we can easily remember that. However, it is natural that when we use them in church worship, we view the psalms from a Christian perspective. You will see this in the picture here, where verse 4 of today’s psalm is printed in the shape of the Cross on which Christ died and from which, we believe, he reigned as King. Referring to Psalm 96, the Oxford Bible Commentary says some of the Church Fathers “regarded the psalm as a prophecy of the cross, an interpretation reflected in the hymn ‘The royal banners forward go.’”[663 in the hymn book mentioned above which we use at St Dunstan’s Church.]

Another thing to consider as you reflect on today’s psalm is that the invitation to celebrate is open to all. From verse 1, “all the earth” is called upon to “sing to the Lord, a new song.” If it was sung when the Ark of the Covenant was brought to Jerusalem and into the new Temple, was this an open invitation for everyone to join the celebrations: Gentiles along with Jews? At this time of terrible news from the Holy Land with little hope of peace, it would be good to believe that at an act of such joy divisions, animosity and hatred were left behind! A celebration which brought everyone together – rather like a Coronation or the Olympic Games. Whether or not that hope can ever be fully realised, it is worth hanging on to and praying for daily. Verse 9 of Psalm 96 certainly holds before us the desire for the “whole earth to tremble before [the Lord.]Once more, looking through the eyes of our Christian faith, this verse can remind us of the final words uttered by Jesus at the end of St Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus is speaking to his disciples, his closest friends and followers, before he leaves them to return to his Father in Heaven. [See Matthew 28,16-20.] He says of himself, “full authority in heaven and on earth has been committed to me,” just as verse 6 of Psalm 96 speaks of “Honour and majesty are before him [the Lord.] Jesus then tells his friends to “Go….and make all nations my disciples…” This is surely something else to keep praying and working for! Amen.

Lord Christ, as we worship you and celebrate your presence among us
help us to be examples of the love and peace which are your gifts to all.

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