I remember hearing in a podcast of Thomas Hopko (Speaking the Truth in Love) about how at one point in history, bishops were expected to have memorized the entire catalog of Psalms (all 150 of them) in order to be ordained as a bishop. In fact it may have been just to enter the priesthood. I have to confess that I have never been into Psalms. I found most of them repetitive, irrelevant, and not as engaging as the gospels, Old Testament narratives, or Paul’s letters. So, while I didn’t avoid them deliberately, I didn’t exactly seek them out. That has now changed.
Anglican New Testament scholar N. T. Wright makes his case for the Psalms in this small and easy to read book. He accurately points out that the biblical psalms have been drifting out of western Christianity’s daily life and church life through the introduction of new choruses and by eliminating the liturgy. I would add that most personal devotional books also don’t have you singing Old Testament psalms either. Wright points out that we have become impoverished greatly by this omission from our faith.
In essence, Wright gives us context as to why Psalms were so elemental to early Christians, to 1st century Jewish culture and to Jesus himself. The primary features of the Psalms time, space and matter as they relate to the Kingdom of God.
The psalmists and singers of the psalms look forward to the time when God’s kingdom would be established on earth, but they also hearken back to the days when God delivered them and often lament the great peril they are suffering now. Time ends up folding, combining the lament with remembrance and promise.
A major theme in the Psalms is God coming to tabernacle (or set up residence) among His people. This is characterized mostly through the temple in Jerusalem, that Holy Mountain. But then, without a clear understanding of Kingdom theology, one might consider a literal establishment of Israel’s kingdom – a real belief among some Evangelicals. All we have to do is refer to God taking up resident in our lives to now see ourselves as that Temple the Psalms celebrate as God’s space. God now lives with us.
Finally, matter matters to God. The earth itself proclaims the glory of God. Jesus mentions something about this when he enters Jerusalem on a donkey on Palm Sunday if you recall. When we read/sing the psalms, we join with all creation in praising God and worship God and looking forward to ultimate redemption.
I lead my first class of the day in a 10 minute devotion which includes 8-12 verses from a psalm. I have been struck repeatedly since having begun and subsequently finishing this book that the truths Wright outlines leap from the couplets. I am far more aware of how each verse points toward the kingdom of heaven (now and not yet) which is the reign of Jesus.
I am now challenged to begin the memorizing and singing of the psalms to bring them into a more central part of my life. They point to Jesus, so this will make Jesus even more central too.