Two days this week and two shout-outs to the Daily Office!?! My Virginia must be showing. OK, enough seminary jokes.
I absolutely love the first seven verses of Psalm 95. I love to read them. I love to sing them. I especially love to hear them sung by a choir that knows what they are doing. Known in the Morning Prayer service as the Venite (which roughly translates as “y’all c’mon!”), the opening two-thirds of Psalm 95 are one of the enduring memories of my seminary experience. They are powerful words when spoken in community. While each of us comes to worship with a myriad of things on our minds, some filled with joy and thankfulness and others filled with fear and sorrow, we all join together to “shout for joy to the rock of our salvation.” Together we encourage one another to not merely praise the LORD with our lips, but to “hearken to his voice.”
The rubric on page 82 of the Book of Common Prayer allows for the entirety of Psalm 95 to be read, but given our general aversion to flipping pages (especially all the way to page 724), I’m willing to bet that almost never happens. In fact, given the content of verses 8-11 of Psalm 95, it probably never happens. The transition from verse 7 to verse 8 is like a scratching record, it is abrupt and feels disjointed. Because of its reference to the Exodus lesson, the reason the whole of Psalm 95 is included in this week’s lectionary is obvious, but the reasons verses 8-11 are included in Psalm 95 aren’t.
My handy-dandy HarperCollins Study Bible goes so far as to say that my beloved verse 7b, “O that today you would harken to his voice” should really be included in the second part. “A liturgy of praise and admonition. This psalm may have been a temple liturgy consisting of a procession into the sanctuary (vv. 1-5) and prostration before God’s presence (vv. 6-7a), followed by words of admonition (vv. 7b-11), perhaps in preparation for the public reading of the Torah or law of God at the Festival of Booths, or Tabernacles.” (p. 890)
So basically, it is like our Palm Sunday liturgy. It starts out with shouts of praise and thanksgiving and ends up reminding us of the stubborn foolishness of humanity. Or, it is like the Exhortation (BCP, pg. 316-17), which is a reminder of God’s great love for us and a call to respond to that love with true repentance and amendment of life. It is an appropriate reminder, here in the midst of Lent, that while our salvation, like the water that came forth from the rock at Meribah and Massah, is a gift of grace, the life of grace assumes that we will respond to God’s love with thanksgiving and action, that can be so simple as “Come, let us sing to the LORD, let us shout for joy to the Rock of our salvation!”