John Michael Gutiérrez, PhD
Some of us from Episcopal/Anglican origins have become familiar with Psalm 100 in three ways: First, in 1549 Cranmer’s liturgical Latin inserted Psalm 100’s Jubilate deo into Anglican morning prayer after Psalm 95’s Venite. Second, about a decade later the exiled Wm. Kethe’s paraphrased poetry for the Geneva Bible found its way into Anglican choral tradition with oft jailed Louis Bourgeois’ adapted melody under the heading “The Old Hundredth”. Third is Ralph Vaughan Williams’s beautiful arrangement for Queen Elizabeth’s processional at Westminster Abbey in 1953. Not to overlook contemporary music: Give a listen to Bob Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody” from 1997’s Slow Train Coming album where he strums the right chords to the psalm’s theology from vs. 2 “Serve the Lord”. And lastly, not to overlook literature from the pen of Mark Twain, we hear Psalm 100 as a song celebrating the safe return of Tom Sawyer.
Now this morning let’s go back to Israel. I invite you to turn to Psalm 100 in the bulletin so you can follow along. By the end of this message, as is my well known habit, I’ll have asked y’all to hold a lot of theology up in the air all at one time. It seems to me it’s worth the effort because this psalm is a poetic masterpiece expressing the fundamental theology of Israel. And it opens the door to the heart of Easter’s realities in our Christian community.
The volley of invitations to worship actions: Shout out joyfully. Serve gladly. Come singing. Enter thankfully. Enter praising. Give thanks. Bless him – are the psalm’s obvious framework (vss. 1,2,4).
But here’s the teaching point for Israel and by all means include us. Covenant is the psalm’s big idea poetically voiced at the center point, vs. 3 “Acknowledge this: YHWH He is God! He made us, and we are His. His people, the flock He shepherds” and at its conclusion, vs. 5 “For YHWH is good; His steadfast love endures forever, and His faithfulness to all generations”. Covenant is a treaty calling Israel to live by revealed instruction enabling them to be formed into a holy community. This psalm restates what Israel understands – the Covenant’s deep, intimate revelation of YHWH’s character and acts has a claim on their loyalty and allegiance. The Covenant is compelling, demanding but not coercive. YHWH does not overwhelm Israel with imperatives. He is interested in genuine relationships and obedience. He bends his knee, accommodating Israel’s humanness and fallibility. He “evangelizes” Israel, not through overpowering logical propositions but through participating in their very earthly life offering them costly love over and over and over again. Allow me to direct you to one of many similar wordings. This one from Deuteronomy: “Acknowledge and take to heart this day YHWH is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other. Keep his decrees and commands, which I am giving you today, so that it may go well with you and your children after you and that you may live long in the land YHWH your God gives you for all time” (4.39-40). Covenant, then, is an extraordinary blueprint for what Israel’s life can genuinely become when lived in obedience to divine instruction. Understanding the unsurpassing beauty of and practicing this blueprint is what calls forth the delightful, boisterous, rousing invitations in this psalm.
In vs. 3 and 5, then, we hear the poet’s skill retracing the language of YHWH’s character, status and acts. Although portrayed as kings and shepherds, gods and kings in the ANE were seldom described as good, loving, safe or kind. Not so YHWH, king and shepherd! When YHWH delivered Israel out of slavery, He acted as a great divine king. He made a covenant with them, creating them to be, not slaves, but a priestly serving people – vs. 3a “Acknowledge this: YHWH He is God. He made us. We are his”. In the Exodus-Wilderness, he revealed himself as a great Shepherd King – vs, 3b “His people, the flock He shepherds”. He redeemed them, not to get rid of them but to walk with them, even in the valley of shadows. And through covenant faithfulness, teaching and guidance, he has shown himself to be good, merciful and loyal – vs. 5 “for YHWH is good, his covenant loyalty and faithfulness endures in every generation”.
Together these statements encourage ordinary Israelites (and us) to recalibrate motivations when entering into the realm of the sacred for worship. So I want to put a few more items into your hands. First, worship in Israel is not an individual, isolated experience but is deliberately carried out with others assembled in community. I can’t worship alone. Second, YHWH is approachable. Make my way into his presence acknowledging his character, his saving, mighty acts. He desires me to darken his gate – a doorway into reconciliation. Third, the theological richness and imagery of Exodus-Sinai-Wilderness language pervading scripture and this psalm shouldn’t surprise me. Accepting YHWH’s kingship radically shapes worship’s experience. Which is to say, worship in Israel is a divinely informed, lived experience. Fourth, worship in the psalms is usually multi -directional. Notice how this psalm motions the worshiper back to the Exodus-Sinai foundation of faith. Once again: “Acknowledge this: YHWH He is God. He made us” (vs. 3a). The poet says this to make the present real in the eight invitations. And yet it doesn’t stop there. Vs. 5 pulls the worshippers into the future “covenant faithfulness endures in every generation”. Worship finds me wherever I am.
Acknowledging who YHWH is roots Israel’s worldview in thankfulness, gratitude. Drawing out their emotions, the revealed word loosens their tongues to sing redemption’s song. The constellation of invitations picture an intimate relationship, sincere mindset and faithful behavior unimaginable without the Covenant’s structure. The invitations affirm the Covenant adds security to Israel’s life – stability, well defined moral, social order. All of which make Israel’s public expressions possible and meaningful.
So Israel’s praise resonates strongly with Covenant’s realities. YHWH is always faithful to his covenant promises. And these promises extend beyond Israel to the nations. How? Well look at the word “Land” in vs. 1. Certainly in Israel’s view “land” is the geography promised to Abraham. But here’s what I’ve come to love about theology in Hebrew poetry – a refusal to be pinned down. The word “land” can also be read as earth. And “earth” can also be read as non-Jewish folk, the “Nations”. That’s us. We also will see, know and experience the commitments and loyalty of YHWH. YHWH’s covenant loyalty was fulfilled for the Nations in a very creative, innovative way. Listen to the words of St. Paul “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the covenant, to redeem those who were under it, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (Gal. 4.4-7).
Yes! Jesus is the person in whom Covenant and faithfulness come together for the Nations, They come together in an actual event which consisted surprisingly and shockingly in the shameful and cruel death by crucifixion of the One who fulfilled the divine purposes. But the explosive force lies in something radically new, something shocking, something up to that point in time unthinkable. Something the Judean authorities, the Romans, even Satan couldn’t grasp. There was a deeper relationship they did not know. If they could have looked further back into the stillness, the darkness before Time, they would have found there God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit. And from them would emerge a willing Son who would break open the bonds of Sin and Death, trampling Hell and Satan under his feet by his death and resurrection
In Jesus’ death and resurrection, we move from enslavement to sonship, from covenant to new covenant. In Jesus’ resurrection, we move to a new type of human forged in the Spirit- image of the risen Son. This is the shock wave vibrating throughout all of creation at Easter.
In the Easter weeks, we join a vast community of praise. We bear witness to YHWH’s faithfulness, loyalty and goodness in Jesus. We walk in a procession stretching across time and place. We celebrate the LORD’s enduring commitment to the redemption of the world. Our loud shouts of praise affirm our common identity as His people, the flock He shepherds. Amen.