October 19, 2020

Only One Thing

Worship the Lord in holy splendor; tremble before him, all the earth.
Ps 96:9

Much has been made of what this psalm means regarding liturgical worship. Holy splendor might be beautiful prayers, vestments, incense, or vessels made of precious metals encrusted with jewels (aka "smells and bells"). I might also look to the incident in which a woman "wasted" expensive ointment by anointing Jesus with it. When she was criticized for it (by Judas, according to John), Jesus replied,

You always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me.
Mark 14:7 
And so is it not true that resources reserved for the worship of Christ do not take food out of the mouths of the poor? There is, after all, already enough food in the world to feed everyone, if only it were shared properly. So money spent on "holy splendor" is never spent badly.

This may or may not be true. But I think before I go too far down that road, I need to check the Hebrew of Psalm 96:9. When I do, I find something I did not necessarily expect: The Hebrew words translated as in holy splendor aren't a noun modified by an adjective, but two nouns... and the one translated as splendor might better be translated as adornment. Thus:

Worship the Lord in the adornment of holiness; tremble before his countenance, all the earth.

In other words, I am probably wrong if I am using this psalm as my justification for splendid vestments, exquisite vessels, and magnificent buildings. On closer inspection, I believe it is calling on me to adorn myself in only one thing: holiness, or separateness from the profane. This is something I am no less able to do wearing jeans in a pup tent than wearing a chasuble made of cloth-of-gold in a gothic cathedral.

My own devotion is more precious in the eyes of God than a million flasks of expensive ointment. And devotion is what is due to God, who cares nothing for stained glass and jewels—these are simply tools that God's people have used through the ages to (at best) invoke a sense of devotion or (at worst) counterfeit it.

Here and now, O Holy One, I devote myself to you. May my resources serve you and your people in the world, in the same way that my heart and mind serve you in worship. I pray this in Jesus' Name, who taught me to pray: Our Father...

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