He says, “I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters; in the assembly I will sing your praises.” Hebrews 2, verse 12.
Men’s retreats and death: in them, we do what verse 12, Psalm 22 and Psalm 68 all say we should do. Verse 12 is a re-telling of these particular psalms, and I find them timely.
This past weekend I went to a Christian men’s retreat here in East Texas. One of my favorite writers, a man named Chad Bird, was speaking on “life in the blood.” 50-60 of us Lutherans gathered at a lakeshore retreat center to spend a day with Chad learning about how God uses blood to atone for us and our myriad sins. He described how the ancient Israelites worshipped God through the tabernacle, then tied that to the animal sacrifices there, then went into depth on why the blood of those sacrifices was the most important part of worship for the Israelites; how Israel was forbidden from consuming blood because life is contained in blood (see Leviticus 17: 10-12). Finally, he tied this to the radical concept of Jesus instituting Holy Communion at the Last Supper and how this turned all he’d previously described upside down.
In all this, my friend and my fellow retreat friends were declaring God’s name to our brothers and singing His praises in our assembly.
Then came yesterday. My wife and I attended a funeral. It was a funeral for a man who died unexpectedly last week. I barely knew him, but he was the husband of a friend for whom I’d worked during much of these last four years. The man who died was retired and spent most of his time learning Hebrew so that he could learn to read the Torah in the original language. That’s something even many seminary students don’t do, yet here was this improbable man spending much of his time doing exactly that. Just so he could know God better. His funeral service was at a small Episcopal church in south Houston. I had never been to an Episcopal funeral and they used an Easter liturgy, proclaiming the Resurrection as the method for bidding farewell and committing a soul to God. There were between 30 and 40 people present, and we all declared God’s name to each other while singing His praises at this assembly to bid farewell to a family member and friend.
Verse 12 paraphrases Psalms 22 and 68. Psalm 22:22 says “I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you.” It was written by King David while he was still a fugitive from King Saul’s jealousy. It is a prayer of an anguished man, a man unjustly pursued and threatened with death for wrongs he never did. Yet in his state of terror, David praises God instead of wallowing in fear.
Then, in Psalm 68, David sings “Praise God in the great congregation; praise the Lord in the assembly of Israel.” This psalm is a hymn, a processional of nine stanzas meant to be sung in masse by worshippers processing to God’s holy presence. He wrote it as King David, as a hymn for his subjects to sing as they gathered in praise of their Lord. It’s a far cry from David crying out in pain. If Psalm 22 is the men’s retreat setting then Psalm 68 took place in the Episcopal church where I sat yesterday.
In both verses, the commonality is praising God. The ancient Israelites praised God according to His specific instructions which (as they never truly learned) were for their benefit and not His. King David praised God in the midst of being threatened with death. He later praised Him as king and the leader of God’s people. Centuries later, the author of Hebrews reiterates these ancient praises by stating how they praise and reflect Jesus, the true altar sacrifice, who gave his life’s blood for our redemption. Who was pursued yet never turned from God. Who praised in assembly the glories of His Father in heaven. The same Jesus who was present at our retreat this weekend and who welcomed my friend home.
For more reading: Leviticus 17:10-12, Psalm 22:22, Psalm 68:26.
Lord Jesus, I praise You in the quiet and I praise You in the presence of others.