Day 12: Tuesday, 19 March
Praise the Lord.
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens.
2 Praise him for his acts of power;
praise him for his surpassing greatness.
3 Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
praise him with the harp and lyre,
4 praise him with timbrel and dancing,
praise him with the strings and pipe,
5 praise him with the clash of cymbals,
praise him with resounding cymbals.
6 Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord.
Bang a gong! Here we may find the answer for those who feel that they cannot sing praises to God, though you shouldn’t assume that bad singers always make good instrumentalists! Even a cymbal has to be clashed at the right time, for there is a difference between a joyful noise in God’s holy place and an unholy racket – the trouble, however, is that the dividing lines between the two are not clearly marked, being partly a matter of taste, and this can lead to some quite strident or entrenched opinions about the type of music used in worship.
The psalm repeats its opening sentence at the end. The last word of the last psalm leaves us in no doubt as to what we should do. The writer calls us to praise God. How God is to be praised is not a question of whether pipe organs and robed choirs are to be pitted against electric bands and worship leaders – such discussion is a complete red herring that only distracts from discovering what true heart-worship of our Lord God is about. If any musician seeks to place their way of worshipping above that of another then the focus has already shifted away from God. If anyone refuses to worship God because of personal preferences then the focus again slips.
Imagine a procession of priestly/levitical musicians in the Temple, filling the lofty spaces or the external courtyards with the raucous and jangling noise of this seemingly odd set of instruments. Trumpets might only be used for repetitive fanfares. Harps (portable, of course) and lyres may pick out melody. Strings and pipe would not be violins and three-manual organ but much simpler instruments. The percussion section would bring pace, punctuation and rhythm to the music as it moves. There would be chanting and declamation, shouts and clashings. It all sounds pretty primitive, but it is what God had ordained, and He had provided his people with highly-skilled ministers in music.
How many times are we called to praise God in this psalm, even if the means is beyond our capability? Twelve. What a glorious closing psalm.
Why should we praise God? There is no answer to that in this psalm – just do it!
However, the psalm does offer another option – dance, with or without timbrels (tambourines). In the Old Testament stories and in Psalms we read of women taking part in celebration in an honourable way. Women were not part of solemn processions with priests, Levites and musicians but there are many examples in the Old Testament of women celebrating in dance. It’s likely that dancing was more the preserve of the younger women than the older, but today we have some awkwardness surrounding women flaunting themselves/expressing worship (you choose) in dance and movement.
Dancing, with timbrels has long been a particular aspect of Salvation Army activity. We have slowly lost the communal connection with dance. Barn dances are a little old-fashioned, and though you may have thoroughly enjoyed Strictly Come Dancing, it may well have been solely as a spectator. Dance is still part of Jewish religious celebration, and perhaps we may need to consider whether movement can find its way back into our worship.
Are we prudish types (male or female) if we see dance as somehow provocative, and would prefer to have none of it at all rather than risk any corruption of others? I may be exaggerating in this analysis, but if in Christ we are given freedom to express our love for God with our hearts, minds, soul and strength (surely that is a physical thing?!), should we not learn to accept it, acknowledge and deal with our own negativity or weakness, and encourage it?
Our final verse, the last verse of the last psalm, commands even my pet cat to praise the Lord.
Have you ever turned your nose up at the way worship is conducted in your congregation/fellowship?
Is it possible for us to revive movement and dance (not necessarily just for women) as part of our celebration of faith? How might it be realised?
(Verse 2) What acts of power can you witness to in your worship?
Father God, I pray for a release of your people into true praise that captures body and heart, soul and strength as well as our voice and raises us to the heavenly places. Amen
(It’s quite long, but educating. I thought the church was empty! Did you spot Mary Sumner?)
Timbrels and dancing
– Palm Sunday procession as you may never have seen it before.
Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version (Anglicised Edition) Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica (formerly International Bible Society). Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, a Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. "NIV" is a registered trademark of Biblica – UK trademark number 1448790.