Since ancient times, the Psalms have helped God’s people celebrate God’s blessings, voice their laments, and pray for mercy. They form the first worship songbook. Martin Luther wrote how the Psalms reach into our hearts, teaching us how to speak with God and pray. Christians of all times and places recognize the Psalms one of our greatest spiritual and artistic treasures.
The composers of the Psalms meant them to be sung. Christians have sung the Psalms in one way or another from antiquity. Singing the Psalms gives us mental and emotional contact with God’s Word. The poetry of the Psalms can give the Spirit a pathway to our soul where reading stops short.
Singing the Psalm in between the Old Testament reading and the New Testament reading is traditional in the life of the church. It is a meditation on the first reading and a response to it. It is a time to ponder God’s Word and dwell on it for spiritual refreshment. Plus, it gives the congregation a chance to proclaim God’s Word.
Singing the Psalm fits into a rhythm of worship, drawing us into God’s Word so that we might listen and be transformed. At St. Luke’s during Lent 2014 the pattern goes this way:
- Quiet Offering—Typically prayerful silence while the special designated offering is collected. (Although sometimes there are temple talks and announcements.) The congregation observes silence in order to further quiet ourselves before the Lord and prepare ourselves to receive God in the Word.
Hymn—This short verse joins us together and voices our desire to meet God in the scripture. Singing sets apart the scripture reading as a holy time.
- Old Testament Reading—Our God is the God of our spiritual ancestors, the God of Abraham and Sarah, Moses and Miriam, Deborah and Samson, Queen Esther and King David. Our story of life with God today is a continuation of their ancient story.
Psalm—The psalm generally echoes the message of the Old Testament reading. We sing it as a response to hearing God speak to us in the first reading.
- New Testament Reading—Most often we read from a letter written by one of the apostles of Jesus. We read it in the congregation today just as Christians read it in the midst of its first hearers.
Gospel Acclamation—The congregation stands and sings to greet Christ, who comes to his people and speaks to them through the holy scripture. We welcome Christ with song and acclaim him saying, “Glory to you, O Lord.”
- Gospel Reading—The first two readings and psalms point to the revelation of Jesus our Savior in the reading from one of the four Gospel books: Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. It is a principal way Christ is present in our worship. Upon meeting Christ in the Gospel, the congregation responds with joy, “Praise to you, O Christ.”
- Sermon—The speaker sheds light on the meaning of the scripture and how God might be speaking to us today.
Hymn of the Day—This is the main song of the worship service. It helps us reflect on the scripture readings, the sermon, and the season of the church year. It allows the congregation as whole to dialogue with God and declare the divine truth we have just encountered in the scripture. The hymn is the congregation’s joyful response to God meeting us and speaking to us in the proclamation of the Word.
We sing. God speaks. God comes to us in the Word. We break into song. The Psalms have been and will remain a mainstay of our worship.