Praise the Lord.
Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens. Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness.
Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with timbrel and dancing, praise him with the strings and pipe, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals.
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord.
Some years ago, I attended the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Toronto Mass Choir’s performance of Handel’s Messiah. We arrived early enough to hear the orchestra tuning and warming up their instruments. Each musician warmed up in his or her own way; each played notes for their ear, drilled their fingers, or rosined her bow, or trilled his horn, in a cacophony of different sounds and procedures.
Our seats were 20 rows back, center house, stage level – probably exactly where the architect of Roy Thompson Hall intended for maximal audio impact; at least it seemed that way to me. At some point during the performance, with the full volume of the orchestra and the respective soloists in front of us, I started to hear brass instruments behind us… at first I thought it was a trick of the architecture, a way the sound was bouncing around in the space and off the back wall.
But the sound grew with a regular crescendo; eventually I figured out it was trumpets and trombones I could hear. As the developing brass ensemble reached fortissimo I looked to the balcony and spread around and throughout on the highest tier of seating – empty (precisely for this effect) – was 7 or 8 brass musicians, standing right on the edge, blasting the melody line.
It was as if a chorus of angels had appeared and joined the chorus of praises down below. As I reflect back on it now, it may have even been the “Glory to God” movement when the angels appear to the shepherds…
The effect was transporting! The union of heaven and earth in singing praises to God. The voices of men and women and angels and saints, all singing praises to his name.
That is the same effect intoned in Psalm 150: “Praise God in his sanctuary” (vs. 1b), whether referring to the temple and the Holy of Holies as the seat of God’s shekinah glory, or in heaven itself; “Praise him in his mighty heavens” (vs. 1c) whether it is the stars that will sing (cf. Psalm 19) or the denizens of heaven, the angels – “everything that has breath” (vs. 6) is commanded to “Praise the Lord.” (vs. 1a and 6b)
All of terrestrial and all of celestial life is gathered up in the worship of God.
God is praised because of 1) what he has done: “Praise him for his acts of power” and 2) who he is: “praise him for his surpassing greatness.” (vs. 2) In fact, he does what he does because of who he is; his acts and his character are consistent and consequent. Whether God has done something or not doesn’t change the fact that he is most worthy to be praised; that he has done something, is doing something, and will do more, is proof of his being worthy of worship – and proof of his Being. Similarly, that order is pulled out of chaos (not unlike the music of Handel “pulled” out of the cacophony of the warming up orchestra) calls for praise from those who have ears to hear. As his greatness and glory fill the universe so must his praise!
Finally, as God calls forth praise – both as a command but also as the only logical response to who he is – he invites you to bring it all forward. The list of musical instruments in verses 3-5 isn’t meant to be conclusive or limiting for God’s design of his own worship. Rather it is intended as illustrative of everything: the long list says, “Worship me with the trumpet, worship me with the harp, and with the lyre (a sort of lap harp that the musician plucks the strings of); worship me with the timbral (similar to a modern tambourine); worship with strings (like a guitar) and with pipe (probably like a flute but maybe inclusive of a pipe organ if that’s your thing); worship me with cymbals big and small; and worship me with your body (dancing and clapping and singing and shouting). Worship me with everything you got.”
That’s the call: to worship God with the whole of everything available – with the whole orchestra or with all the angels and saints. That we are called to worship him now in this way is transportive to the invitation of the New Heavens and New Earth and the picture of worship we are given in Revelation 4 and 5 as John is taken up to heaven and sees 24 elders, the seven spirits of God, and the four living creatures who sing out: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty; who was, and is, and is to come.” (Rev. 4:8); and after seeing the Lamb looking as if it had been slain, they sang a new song: “You are worthy…” (Rev. 5:9) And then John sees even more, angels upon angels, thousands upon thousands, ten thousand times ten thousand, join in the song: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” (Rev. 5:12)
And there is still more! John looks and now, “I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” (Rev. 5:13)
Our worship today, whether sung with a guitar, acapella, or a 400-year-old pipe organ (or a frame drum or didgeridoo) is a picture of the worship that is already happening in heaven and will one day happen across all of creation. That is what Psalm 150 is inviting you to experience. And so, the next time you gather with the church for worship let that be your vision of what is happening. When you gather with the family of believers to “declare the praise of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Pt. 2:9b) may your worship crescendo to fortissimo, nay even to fortississimo, as you participate in the coming together of the terrestrial and the celestial to sing, “You are worthy!”
Lord Jesus, help me to see the heavenly scenes of worship for the church of my time and space. Connect me with generations of Christians throughout the ages, from every tribe, tongue, and nation; with the angels in heaven, and with the whole of creation to sing your praises because of who you are and what you have done – and what you will do. In Jesus’ name, Amen!