1 O come, let us joyfully sing to the LORD; To the Rock of salvation let us raise our voice. 2 Let us come before him expressing our thanks; Let us with loud singing praise him and rejoice.
3 The LORD is the great God, King over all gods. 4 The earth’s deepest places he holds in his hand; The heights of the mountains belong to the LORD. 5 The oceans are his, and he formed the dry land.
6 Come, let us bow humbly and worship the LORD; Let us kneel before him, our Maker, in prayer. 7 For we are his people and he is our God; He shepherds and feeds us in his loving care.
Today if you hear and attend to his voice, 8 Don’t harden your hearts as you did on the way; In Meribah’s desert you quarrelled with me, You tested my patience at Massah that day.
9 Your fathers provoked me and tested me there, Although they had witnessed the works I had done. 10 With that generation for forty long years My deep indignation continued to burn.
I said, “They’re a people whose hearts go astray; They do not acknowledge that my ways are best.” 11 And so, in my anger, I stated on oath, “I swear that they never shall enter my rest.”
You can hear a Free Church of Scotland congregation sing this to the tune Walther here.
In ‘Yes, Prime Minister’ Jim Hacker is told that on his orders the nuclear button will be pressed. Asking if anyone will argue, and assured they won’t, he gulps and says, ‘Blimey!’ Sir Humphrey replies, ‘It’s your job and you wanted it, Prime Minister.’ It’s a sort of ‘be careful what you ask for’ moment.
And such is Psalm 95. It begins with praise that’s more exuberant than our translation suggests. The opening ‘come’ is more like ‘let’s get going!’; its ‘sing’ is really ‘shout’, and ‘come before him’ suggests life-shaping encounter. As Beth Tanner has it, ‘This is praise using all the force and power that the human body has.’ Perhaps there’s an allusion to that phrase Jesus borrows from the Hebrew writings, that we are to love God with heart, soul, mind and strength. And why? Because God is creator and shepherd; God makes and God saves. So much is this God ‘the King over all gods’ that the devout worshipper is led to bow down, to kneel and to pray.
However, in the best traditions of ‘be careful what you ask for’, this whole-hearted praise invites consequences; such an ‘encounter’ with God doesn’t leave us where it found us. The worship we offer is meant to be reflected in the way we live. And the Psalm suggests God’s disappointment that that is not always so: ‘You tested my patience’, ‘your fathers provoked me’. Moreover, the Psalm closes with that divine disappointment: ‘they shall never enter my rest’. When we tell God of our worship, God longs for our service. It’s a chicken and egg thing.
I first sang this Psalm at Matins; it’s the Venite. Perhaps the so-called Chorister’s Prayer, offered Sunday by Sunday in the vestry, echoes exactly what Venite urges.
Bless, O Lord, us thy servants who minister in thy Temple; grant that what we sing with our lips we may believe in our hearts and what we believe in our hearts we may show forth in our lives, to the honour and glory of thy holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord Amen
The Revd Nigel Uden is minister of Downing Place, of Fulbourn & of Stetchworth & Cheveley URCs in Cambridgeshire and is a Moderator of the General Assembly.