“Bless the Lord, you angels of his, you mighty ones who do his bidding… bless the Lord, all you works of his, in all places of his dominion” (Ps. 103:20, 22).
It’s an honor to preach tonight, on the observance of matriculation, and the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels; a delight, as well, to have shared these last few days with the seminary community. My wife Caroline and I are grateful to Dean Anderson and to all of you for your hospitality, and many kindnesses. Thank you all for your companionship in Christ this week.
Psalm 103 tonight ends with a cosmic doxology: a vision of all creation, from top to bottom, arrayed in an order of praise around the heavenly King. The extent of this divine order is vast, spanning heaven and earth; as our psalm describes it, the cosmos includes not only men and angels, but all created things as well. Though the ancient Hebrews could not see into the Hubble Deep Field, into galaxies that are light years away, they too had a notion of creation’s immensity, its true scope and scale.
In the grand scheme of this extensive order, reaching from heaven to earth, humankind is a fleeting part. Psalm 8 puts it this way: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your finger, the moon and the stars you have set in their courses, what is man that you should be mindful of him? the son of man that you should seek him out?” (Ps. 8: 4-5). Earlier in tonight’s psalm we read, “For he himself knows whereof we are made, he remembers that we are but dust. Our days are like the grass; we flourish like a flower of the field; when the wind goes over it, it is gone, and its place shall know it no more” (Ps. 103:14-16). In the order of the universe, in its awesome scope and scale, human beings are but a tiny part.
Yet for all this, the universe is charged with moral significance, and a human scale. By “moral significance,” I mean it is a place where our discernment and action matter. It is humane, in that human beings find their proper place within it.
In fact, when our psalm lays out the vast extent of God’s creation, it chooses explicitly moral terms to describe it. “For as the heavens are high above the earth, so is his mercy great upon those who fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he set our sins from us” (Ps. 103:11-12). Mercy, and the fear of the Lord; sin, and its forgiveness: for Israel, these explicitly moral terms (rather than the extension of the universe in time and space) are the true measure of the cosmos.
In other words, when ancient Israel reckoned up the vast extent of the universe, nothing was more striking than this moral dimension. The universe is not just a vast, unfriendly place, but has a human scale that fits us for it. In fact, the Hebrews had a much clearer understanding of the true scope of the cosmos than we do. They saw it as more than the mere extension of existence in time and space, but as a divine order in which humankind matters, and God acts to save. “What is man that you should be mindful of him? The son of man that you should seek him out” (Ps. 8:5).
For Christians, of course, the human scale of the cosmos has been confirmed by God, who through his Son has sought us out and taken human flesh, and entered time and space. In Jesus Christ, the human scale has become the measure of the cosmos, a function of the divine reckoning that redeems all things through the blood of the lamb. In Jesus Christ, as St. Paul says in Colossians, “all things hold together” (Col. 1:17), including heaven and earth, and humankind itself.
The doxological note that concludes our psalm, in which angels and mortals join together to bless God, fits with this perspective. Worship is our proper response to God, and through it we find our place within the order of creation. Worship has moral significance, too; it is action we take in response to God’s action in Christ. It is sacrificial, “the spiritual worship” (Rom. 12:2) that we offer to God, as St. Paul says in Romans. It is this element of self-giving in worship, that gives it its moral character, and its human scale.
In worship, we human beings join with the hosts of heaven in a divine order of praise and thanksgiving. On this evening of matriculation, our discernment and action bear fruit, and are joined to worship, transcending time and space. The communion in which we share is of vast extent; it joins heaven and earth, catching us up here and now in heavenly realities. Angels themselves are present with us, as we join with them in the worship of the immortal and invisible God. We bless the Lord in concert with them, taking our rightful place at the head of the whole worshipful company, through the mighty action of God toward us in Jesus Christ our Lord.