Listen to the Whole Album
In order to get the whole story of redemption, we must listen to the whole album.
Last week, we reflected on the Psalms of Ascent, a series of fifteen Psalms (129-134) sung by Old Testament pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem for one of three annual festivals.
These Psalms were intended to be sung in order as travelers made their way from their present location to the Temple. Some scholars also believe that the priests would sing one psalm on each step of the fifteen steps of the Temple as they ascended to offer worship on behalf of the people.
It’s important to remember that all of the Psalms were sung as congregational worship. They are, in fact, the original hymnal of God’s people.
Perhaps it’s helpful to think of the Psalms as a boxed set of songs written by various singer-songwriters; songs to guide people in worship of the one true God who saved them out of slavery in Egypt and showered them with steadfast love and faithfulness.
In the Psalms, there are songs relating the history of their relationship with God, songs of God’s glory and power, and songs of rejoicing at his creation. There are also songs of depression, exhaustion, confusion, hunger, anger, loneliness, disillusionment, and fear.
And the Psalms might also be considered as a concept album, carefully crafted and ordered to tell an important story: one of our redemption.
Psalm 1 (Track 1 of Album 1 of 5, using our framework!) paints a picture of the faithful life,
Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.
And, at just the right time, Psalm 73 (Track 1 of Album 3 of 5), offers an honest assessment of the reality of life. Despite a long obedience in the same direction, it is often not the righteous who appear to flourish but the wicked. The Psalmist asks, “What’s up with that?”
Finally, the final Psalm of the boxed set offers this,
Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens!
Praise him for his mighty deeds;
praise him according to his excellent greatness!
Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with sounding cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!
Despite all the difficult realities of life, how can this be the final track?
Because the Psalms, like all of the Scriptures, were never to be appreciated as Greatest Hits. They were meant to be heard as part of the whole album.
Without this approach, we end up mired in an abyss of legalism and credential building, or pursuing an elusive prosperity and carefree life offered to no one. Worse yet, we can live our days overwhelmed with guilt and shame or believing that we don’t actually need Christ.
But the Psalms, and all of Scripture for that matter, are telling a beautiful and honest picture of our lives with more clarity and truth than anything Eminem, Billie Eilish, A$AP Rocky, Billy Joel, or Paul Simon has ever penned.
But in order to get the whole story, we must listen to the whole album.
Rev. Michael Langer is the Associate Director for the D.C. ministry.