Pray the Psalms with Jesus in Song

Mark Veenman

King David is our kind of musician. King David is our kind of poet. He was a songwriter. He played stringed instruments with "all his might." He wrote love songs. He was once a teenager too, with all the struggles you have! He was acknowledged as "'the sweet Psalmist of Israel': The Spirit of the LORD speaks by me, his Word is on my tongue". (2 Sam. 23) King David is also the author of 73 of our Psalms. He is therefore the Church's chief writer of hymns!

We chant from the Psalter every Sunday in the Introit. Our Divine liturgies are saturated with the language of the Psalms. Did you ever stop and ask yourself why you sing from these old-fashioned poems set to antiquated chant modes? And what do the Psalms have to do with church music?

The Psalms are first and foremost prayers. When we sing the Psalms, we pray. Who prays? David prays. The sons of Korah pray. Moses prays. Christ prays. The early Church prays. The whole community of Christ prays. Through time and space, we are united to Christ and His whole Church of all times and places when we pray the Psalms in song. You sing them with your dead Christian ancestors. Hymns may come and go, but the Psalms are sung perpetually by the Church on earth. So our loving God wants to teach us to pray by singing the Psalms. There are many times when we don't know how to pray. Have you ever said to God in the darkness of your room "I don't even know what to say"? Even in your dark silence the Holy Spirit will pray to the Father for you in groanings that are too deep for your little words. It's enough to pray "Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy". To deepen your prayer life, pick up the Psalter. This is a spiritual exercise you will not regret.

The Psalms are also meant to be sung! "Song" or all related words like "to sing" appears 345 times in the Bible. It is remarkable that the first song recorded in Scripture is immediately after the Israelites were saved miraculously by the crossing of the Red Sea. Mere speech is not enough when His people are saved by Him! And year after year we rejoice with the Israelites and all God's people at the Easter Vigil as we repeat scripture's very first song: "The Horse and its Rider He has thrown into the Sea!" And in St. John's Revelation, it is prophesied that we will sing scripture's first song again at the end of time: "And they sing the song of Moses... and the song of the Lamb" (Rev. 15:3). For Christians, of course, the death and resurrection of Christ is the real Exodus! Christ strides through the Red Sea of Death, through the shadows of hell, and breaks down the gates and takes us up in his train! (Psalm 68 and Ephesians 4) And it is in our baptism that we can celebrate the Exodus in the present, and rejoice with Moses and Miriam and the whole Christian Church. What do you have to do? "Be still, and know that I Am God". He will save you, and you will sing.

The Psalms are all about Christ! We read in the letter to the Hebrews one of the most astounding texts in the New Testament: "I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise". (Heb. 2) These words, ascribed to Christ, are first uttered from the mouth of King David in Psalm 22; the same words that first David sang are now prayed by Christ. But it is a greater mystery that in this text we can say it is Christ who prays this Psalm in his forerunner David! It's clear that Christ is the true David, that David in the Holy Spirit prays through and with the One who is to be his son. The Holy Spirit, who inspires David to sing and pray, moves him to sing about Jesus, and this enables us to sing through Christ to the Father! Let that sink in! What a gift from God we have in the Psalter! The Lutheran church has preserved for itself a priceless treasure in this book of prayer and song. When we utter the words of King David in the Psalms, we are breathing the very words of Christ back to Christ who says in Luke 24:44 "Everything written about me in... the Psalms must be fulfilled". And our dear Lord, before his death on the cross, could cry to heaven with the very words of David in Psalm 22 written 1000 years earlier: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?". In the Psalms we can sing and pray with the full range of Godly human emotion: joy, pain, rejoicing, torment, forgiveness, guilt, life, and death. It is your prayer, but with it you pray and sing with Christ.

Who can sing and pray the Psalms? The Psalter is only for sinners, and in the Psalter you will find an overflowing reservoir filled with the pure life-giving water of the gospel. So sing with Jesus. Pray with Jesus, for "The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit". Psalm 34:18

Mark Veenman is a member of Grace Lutheran Church LCC in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada.

Created: May 13th, 2015