When I was younger — much younger! — I sang in choirs and ensembles. It started with Glee Club in junior high; I still remember the Rodgers and Hammerstein medley we sang for parents. Later, when my wife and I were first married, we sang together in the choir of a small Evangelical Free church near our apartment. When we moved to Southern California and started attending an Evangelical Covenant church, I joined a small ensemble of twenty-somethings who sang more contemporary arrangements for the earlier of the two Sunday services. I was assigned to sing bass, but as a natural baritone, sometimes struggled to hit the lowest notes cleanly. That was nothing, however, compared to the few times all the guys were forced to hit top tenor without screeching or busting a vocal cord.
That was almost forty years ago. Now, at church, I gladly join everyone else in congregational singing. At home, I might walk around the house doing Elvis. I haven’t sung in a choir in decades.
But in a sense, all believers are called to be part of a much larger choir than we imagine.
. . .
Psalm 65, as we’ve seen, invites us to imagine a song of silent praise. The people come to the temple to worship and fulfill their vows, and in gratitude reflect upon the gracious forgiveness of God (vs. 3) and the ways in which God answers prayer (vs. 5). They are overcome with a sense of God’s goodness and holiness as they come into his presence (vs. 4).
But the psalmist’s vision of God’s goodness extends far beyond the temple. The language and imagery reflect a time and place when people still lived off the land and depended on the blessing of a good rain for their crops to flourish:
You visit the earth and make it abundant,
enriching it greatly
by God’s stream, full of water.
You provide people with grain
because that is what you’ve decided.
Drenching the earth’s furrows,
leveling its ridges,
you soften it with rain showers;
you bless its growth.
You crown the year with your goodness;
your paths overflow with rich food.
Even the desert pastures drip with it,
and the hills are dressed in pure joy. (vss. 9-12, CEB)
And in the verses flanking this vision of abundance, we read this:
You make the gateways
of morning and evening sing for joy. (vs 8b)
The meadowlands are covered with flocks,
the valleys decked out in grain—
they shout for joy;
they break out in song! (vs. 13)
There’s Rodgers and Hammerstein again. I can’t help but picture Julie Andrews as Maria, joyfully twirling in a meadow against the backdrop of the Austrian Alps, singing, “The hills are alive with the sound of music.”
The more no-nonsense nuns of Maria’s abbey never quite understood her free-spirited nature; she felt closest to God when out among the trees and birds, traipsing through the mountains and valleys of her childhood. But this is akin, I think, to the psalmist’s vision, in which the flourishing meadows and even the morning and evening sing for joy to God.
This is not, of course, the only place we see such language. Psalm 98 not only calls the people to praise, but to join a larger chorus:
Let all the rivers clap their hands;
let the mountains rejoice out loud altogether before the Lord
because he is coming to establish justice on the earth! (vss. 8-9)
Likewise, here’s how the prophet Isaiah envisions the coming of the day of the Lord:
Yes, you will go out with celebration,
and you will be brought back in peace.
Even the mountains and the hills will burst into song before you;
all the trees of the field will clap their hands. (Isa 55:12)
The Psalms and prophets envision a joyous future in which all creation will praise its creator, and we’re invited to sing along. That might be hard for us to imagine. Our relationship to nature may be more distant; we treat the world less as God’s wondrous creation and more like a consumable resource. But the Bible portrays a different kind of relationship: just as creation suffers the curse of sin right alongside us (Rom 8:19-22), so too does it share in our hope of salvation (vss. 23-25).
Put differently: we’re invited to join the choir.
Rehearsals start now.