"An Easter Life"
Scripture - Psalm 150
Sermon Preached by Anne R. Ledbetter
Sunday, April 7, 2013

Today's scripture passage calls us to continue our Easter Alleluias. Frequently called the Frozen Chosen, Presbyterians typically find praise more challenging than other branches of God's family. We emphasize the intellect of the head and shortchange the inspiration of the heart. Yet, historically Presbyterians have claimed praise as the very vocation of God's people. Who learned the Westminster Shorter Catechism when you were in Sunday School; oh, perhaps half a century ago or more? Remember the very first question? What is the chief end of man? Translated in today's parlance: What is the purpose of humanity? And the answer? "To glorify God and to enjoy God forever." Even Presbyterians understand that human beings are made for praise - to worship, extol, exalt, laud, honor, and glorify our Maker.

Today's psalm is the climactic end of the psalter. The last five psalms invite and urge not only God's people but everything that breathes, all creation, to praise God. Psalm 150 begins and ends with the Hebrew "Hallelu Yah!" (praise God) framing 10 additional invitations to praise. The number is no accident - 10 commands to praise, like the 10 commandments. Add the preface and postscript and praise occurs 12 times - reminding them of the 12 tribes of Israel.

Praise is a hallmark of an Easter life. Essential to our worship, praise launches our Sunday service. Do you recall the first songs you learned as a child at church? Perhaps it was "Jesus Loves Me;" one of my other early Sunday School songs was "Praise Him, Praise Him, All Ye Little Children, God is love, God is love." When I was a young pastor, the children's favorite was "Rise and shine and give God the glory, glory." And for years now the children in Westminster's VBS are thrilled to sing, "Allelu, allelu, allelu, alleluia, Praise ye the Lord!" With a rich practice of praise, and the love of family and church family, children grow up keenly aware of God's goodness and grace.

While we adults tend to make the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper a somber, sober affair, children instinctively experience it as a wonderful celebration. My mind's eye still holds an indelible portrait of praise dating back twenty years ago: I can picture four-year-old Cassie, who after taking a chunk of communion bread, popping it in her mouth, and closing her eyes, twirled around with hands and face raised to the sky in pure delight. I hope and pray that Cassie, now in her mid- twenties, has retained that beautiful impulse to embody her praise to God.

Why is praise critical for God's people? Does God need our praise? No. We need the practice of praise. When we praise, we acknowledge Who God is, and we turn our backs on all other gods, all other claims on our lives. Unlike the hackneyed, diluted phrase, "Praise the Lord," the language of praise is poetic and extravagant. Listen to this prayer of adoration:

Majestic, loving, saving, gracious, faithful, generous, powerful, caring, merciful, surprising, shocking, good, and righteous God: there are not enough words to describe the wonder of you.1

Such language invites us to praise with all that we are, not holding anything back. Like Cassie at the communion table. The activity of praise lifts us, and who does not desire a little resurrection of the spirit?

Just this week a young woman shared that she joined the choir in order to sing the Hallelujah chorus - and the experience did not disappoint her. Neither did it disappoint us. Remember how it felt last week to hear the choir sing, the organ reverberate, the trumpets blast, and the timpani thunder? When we join in the praise, we are transformed - and sometimes we merely have to witness it, hear it, or brush alongside it. Praise reminds us daily Who God is - our creator, redeemer and sustainer. Praise keeps us God-conscious. Praise nurtures gratitude and wonder. In her poem "When Death Comes" Mary Oliver expresses the power of praise:

"When it's over, I want to say: all my life I was a bride to amazement."

You may remember my story of Jim who spent his last days in a hospital bed in the family's living room, in hospice care. Each time I visited him, those final weeks, I asked how he was feeling, and each time Jim looked up at me, with a radiant smile, and said, "My cup runneth over." When death came for Jim, his heart overflowed with gratitude to God.

How about you? What is your practice of praise? Would a heart doctor suggest you take a daily praise supplement? An Easter life spills over with Alleluia. Praising people are not timid but empowered, not rigid but spontaneous, not exclusive but welcoming. In praise we give ourselves over to God who is everything, recognizing that without God, we are nothing.2 How do you praise God? Playing instruments? Singing? Dancing? Gardening? Welcoming? Caring? Teaching? Praying? Serving? Praise also stirs up generosity. Perhaps you praise God in part through your financial gifts to the church - a weekly tithe or offering, giving new hymnals, supporting the youth in their Guatemala mission this summer, remembering Westminster in your will. Praise is a subversive act, for when we praise we proclaim that God's way, not the world's way, will prevail.3

Friends, we all know that life brings challenges, losses, trials, and unspeakable griefs to bear; and that sometimes it feels impossible to praise. There are and will be times when we will forget the lyrics of praise, when alleluias will lie lifeless in our guts, or lodged in our throats, when our hearts cannot sing and our feet cannot dance. And for these times we have the songs of lament in the psalter. But even the laments all end with a vow, a promise to praise God again.

Our Easter Gospel declares that:

Light will ultimately penetrate the darkness,
love will forever quench fear and hate,
and life is ever victor over death.

Indeed, nothing can defeat God - not even death; therefore, an Easter life forever retains Handel's chorus as its underlying melody. Whatever our circumstances, an Easter life is lived in the hope and promise of God's sovereign love.

As I prepare to leave Westminster, I have been packing up my office and trying to decide which books I may need or want in this upcoming time of discernment. One book I have decided to keep as a close companion this next year is this one - Book of Daily Prayer. I sense the Great Physician urging me to increase my daily dose of praise. The opening sentences for morning prayer may not contain the liveliness of a children's anthem or the passionate power of the Hallelujah chorus, but they most assuredly place one in a posture of prayer and fan the heart's fading embers into a faithful flame. Try these on for size, and notice how you feel. Repeat after me:

Satisfy us with your love in the morning,
and we will live this day in joy and praise.

O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.

O Lord, open our hearts,
and our lives shall proclaim your praise.

Alleluia! Amen.


  1. Fane Downs, Old Songs for a New Millenium, p. 56. (Horizons, Presbyterian Women PCUSA, 1999.)
  2. Fane Downs, Old Songs for a New Millenium, p. 55. (Horizons, Presbyterian Women PCUSA, 1999.)
  3. Fane Downs, Old Songs for a New Millenium, p. 55. (Horizons, Presbyterian Women PCUSA, 1999.)