Friday, June 15, 2007
Reflections on the Venite
The psalm that introduces and anchors the setting of Matins/ Morning Prayer is the 95th, also known as the "venite" from the opening word of the psalm in Latin ("come".) In my church it is sung monthly in the service of Matins, and is also part of my devotional life. As I read it again this morning, I couldn't help but notice the tone it sets for reverent worship in the presence of God.
Although some English translations use the word "worship" in this psalm, a detailed look at the psalm in its original Hebrew will show that this English concept is not present (worth-ship). Rather, the words translated as "worship" have the characteristic Hebrew emphasis on direct action. Worship is bowing down, kneeling, prostrating oneself before the "great King above all gods."
There is the sense here of being in the direct presence of the creator of the universe, and the sense is not at all 'chatty' as one finds too often in the worship language of modern Christians. One does not 'chat' with 'Father God." One "sings to the Lord Yahweh" and comes into the "presence" of the "great God" with "thanksgivings" and singing the ancient psalms.
In my recent blog article on church architecture I bemoaned the "meeting house" style that predominates in too many modern church edifices, and the casualness that often emanates from their worship in such places. The ancient cathedrals of time past forced the eye heavenward to the "great God" who ruled the heavens, and yet drew it earthward also to the altar and its cross, where the great God took on flesh in the person of Jesus. In churches that simply emphasize emotions over awe, the great God of the Venite is substituted for a Mister Rogers type of deity who commands no such reverence, but rather comes to make us feel good about ourselves.
Sometimes the word "fear" is used in connection with God, and this makes people uncomfortable. Although I answer that it is synonymous with "reverence" in many cases, one wonders if more godly "fear" might not be helpful. As so many Christians skip through life indifferent to the Word of God as it speaks to their lifestyle choices, a word of godly fear might be more in order these days.
Moses was told to take off his sandals before the Burning Bush, for he stood, Yahweh told him, "on holy ground." We need to rediscover that the ground on which we worship is indeed holy - set apart in the presence of the great God. And our knees must be bent in humble repentance, our backs bowed in awed wonder before this King of Kings. This is the posture of one coming for mercy. This is the position of true faithful worship.