For those who want a change from the Gospel
Easter 5 – Psalm 148
This week’s piece of post-Easter psalmody is very different from last week’s, Psalm 23, which was about the individual’s relationship with the care and power of God. Psalm 148 is a psalm or hymn of praise, and it lacks any specific home in the worship of Israel. If it were in a modern hymn-book, it would be listed under ‘General Hymns of Praise’. Psalms of thanksgiving tend to praise God for something specific which he has done, but here we have a much more general listing of his qualities. This list of God’s creation may owe its order to some more ancient texts. It is similar to Job 38, to a passage in the Song of the Three Young Men in the Apocrypha, and even to the Egyptian Onomasticon of Amenope, where the creatures of the god Ptah are listed. But this ancient tradition has been placed firmly in the context of the God of Israel and his unequalled power.
Normally such Psalms fall into two parts: the summons to worship, and the reasons for worship. The people are called into the praise of God, and just in case any were thinking ‘But why should we?’, the qualities of God which are worthy of praise are listed. These two parts are present here, but there is another two-fold division, based not on the logic of worship but on the location of the worshippers. First of all God praise is summoned from the heavens (v.1). The angel choirs and the created world are both invited to praise God. Why? Because he made them all, and because by his command they are established and upheld.
Then the focus shifts and praise is called forth from the earth (v.7). All of the earthly creation is included, from the weather to the animal and plant kingdoms, and finally the earth’s human inhabitants. Why? Because of God’s almighty splendour, unequalled in all creation. But there is more – God has raised up a horn, symbolising strength, for his people. In its original context this might mean that God has renewed the people’s power, perhaps by restoring their fortunes after a period of trouble, giving them a new lease of life. This would fit with the probably post-exilic date of the psalm. But Christians can’t help but read this as an Easter psalm, celebrating the victory of God, through Jesus, over all that is evil and oppressive to his created world.
Today we too come to worship. This psalm reminds us about several things we do when we worship God. We come with all creation, which can be encouraging if there are six of us in a cold and musty country church. We come together – each of the ten summonses to worship are in the plural – ‘Youse’ or ‘Y’all’ praise the Lord. We come with humility, as part of a list which includes both the kings of the earth and the tiny creeping creatures of the earth – worms and insects. Probably we would put ourselves somewhere between those two extremes in the pecking order! But it’s good to remind ourselves both how small and how important our praises are to God.
Two more of our readings set for today, though, place the psalm in a bigger context. In Acts 11 the Church is beginning to wake up to the fact that Gentiles as well as Jews are welcome in God’s kingdom. Our worship is to be as inclusive as it possibly can. Anyone who wants to worship God is welcome, and we are not to put up barriers which God would rip down. And Revelation 21 reminds us that although in this psalm the created world has been established for ever (v.6), nevertheless the days of this creation are numbered, when, at the return of Jesus, both the heavens and the earth will be recreated, and nothing will ever get in the way of our praise again. We may be painfully aware, as we perhaps struggle through our worship today, that our praise has not yet been perfected, but we have the promise of a new creation where, without any sadness or suffering, we will worship for all eternity. Bring it on, Lord!