A Reflection on Psalm 95 by Canon Rob,
12th March 2023, the Third Sunday of Lent
If you are familiar with the Book of Common Prayer, you may remember using today’s psalm, headed “the Venite.” and set to be used each day, with one or two exceptions, at Morning Prayer. It was to be said or sung at the beginning of each morning’s worship reminding us that we are to put God, and our worship of Him, first. In the Prayer Book version it can be found on page 65 of Common Worship where you will see that the last four verses are in brackets. In “Common Worship: Daily Prayers,” it is used at Morning Prayer only on Fridays and the last four verses are omitted. These changes were made because the version in the BCP is from the King James Bible and the language was thought to be too stern today. Interestingly in the Psalter, in “Common Worship” and which I use for these Reflections, Psalm 95 is printed in full. I have gone into detail about this because it shows that even in Church worship – which many consider outdated – fashions change. Today we prefer to focus on the Love of God, rather than His Judgement, and the first seven verses of Psalm 95 are clearly words of praise. However, before we dismiss verses 8 to 11 of the psalm, you may like to look up The Letter to the Hebrews, in the New Testament. In Chapter 3, verses 7 – 11, you will find the words of “the Venite” and they are followed by a warning not to rebel against God. Instead the people are told to encourage each other every day in the ways of God. Only then will they find the “rest” which the Lord alone can provide.
Back to the beginning! Verses 1 and 2 are an invitation to share in the worship of the Lord who the author of the psalm knows as “the rock of our salvation.” In verse 22 of the previous psalm we read, “….the Lord has become my stronghold and my God the rock of my trust.” Here is a picture of the rock of Gibraltar!! It is unshakeable, always present, totally dependent. God is like this. More than that verse 3 says, “…the Lord is a great God and a great king above all gods.” The God we find in the Book of Psalms is supreme and unique. Time and again the people of Israel were reminded that there is only One God and as verses 4 and 5 tell us, He is the Supreme Creator: “In his hand are the depths of the earth and the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands have moulded the dry land.” As you reflect upon these words, note that all that is created belongs to God. As an example of this the writer of the psalm says, “the sea is his.” The reason? Because God made it! We are rightly increasingly concerned for the future of the planet and all that lives here. We often see it on our television screens and we know that time is running out. But it isn’t just for our sake, for the sake of the flora and fauna who share the earth with us, or all the plants and creatures who inhabit the oceans, that we must change much of the way we live. It is also for God’s sake.
In this last paragraph, let us return to celebration and joy, the theme of the opening verses of today’s psalm. And we find it in verses 6 and 7. Verse 6 is very much like the opening verse, being an invitation to worship God and “kneel before the Lord our Maker.” The psalms were originally sung by the Jewish people in the Temple and in the local synagogues. However, we too experience the joy of singing hymns in our worship today, or listening to the choir singing an anthem which lifts our spirits. If we needed a reason to do these things, verse 7 provides it: “For he is our God; we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand.” (You may prefer to reflect upon the translation of the words in the picture above.) Whichever, we worship God as our Father and the Father of us all and Psalm 95 is, more than anything else, an invitation to share that worship with all who choose to join us.
Give me a joyful heart, O Lord, remembering that you
are my maker and the shaper of my destiny. Amen.
[Prayer at the end of Psalm 95 in Psalms through the Year by Marshall Johnson.]