The Lord is king, enthroned in might on wings of cherubim; he reigns in holiness and light, bow down to worship him! Beyond all majesty and praise his holy Name confess: the King of everlasting days, who rules in righteousness.
Of old to priests and prophets known with trembling, fear and awe, he gave his people, set in stone, his statutes and his law. By those who called upon his Name the voice of God was heard, his presence shown in cloud and flame when they obeyed his word.
O magnify the God of grace who hears his people’s cry, and come with songs before his face, exalt his Name on high! to see at last, by grace restored from sin and all its stains, the holy mountain of the Lord where God in glory reigns.
Holiness is the keynote of this psalm. In the paraphrased version, God ‘reigns in holiness and light’ and in response human beings are urged to worship and praise God, confessing God’s holy Name. In the original text there is the strong suggestion of humans trembling and inanimate creation quaking in the presence of the holy God. This primal response of creation before its Creator reflects God’s awe-inspiring otherness.
In the presence of the Lord’s overwhelming holiness, our puny attempts to be holier-than-thou on the human level are relativised. Our pretence to be better than, or sometimes worse than, the other person is exposed as futile. The only comparison worth making is a contrast. The holiness of God who ‘rules in righteousness’ is absolute; any holiness that the human being has is God’s gift through covenant relationship.
To understand the holiness that human beings receive from God, the Apostle Paul points us to its source not in ourselves but in Christ: “No place is left for any human boasting in the presence of God. Because of God’s action you are in Christ Jesus. God has made Christ our wisdom and in him we have our right-standing, our holiness, and our liberation.” (1 Corinthians 1:29-30) This is good news because it shifts the focus away from oneself toward Christ. Christ mediates God’s holiness to us, and we ‘by grace restored from sin and all its stains’ find our true selves and highest calling in glorifying God.
When we join in the hymn in praise of God’s glory, singing: ‘Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might’ we experience, momentarily at least, blessed self-forgetfulness as we are caught up with the faithful in heaven and on earth. That moment of communion, when we are aligned with the holy God in praise, may be likened to a field of sunflowers all facing and tracking the sun.
I encourage you to sing the psalm paraphrase, set to the strong tune ‘Ellacombe’.
We praise you, God of grace and holiness. Like the sunflower, we turn our faces towards your glory. When we are tempted to compare ourselves favourably or unfavourably with others, remind us that because of your action we are in Christ Jesus. In Christ we find our right-standing, our holiness, and our liberation. Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory! Amen
The Rev’d Dr Julian Templeton is Minister of St John’s United Reformed Church New Barnet