I rejoiced with those who said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the LORD.”
Every time I read Psalm 122:1, I am transported back in time. There I am, sitting in my first grade Sunday School class as Mrs. Merrill stands before us and says with utter reverence, “I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the LORD. The LORD is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him.”
In part, Mrs. Merrill was quoting Psalm 122:1 from the King James Version. But, if you look up this passage, you don’t find the second half of her quotation. “The LORD is in his holy temple…” comes from Habakkuk 2:20.
I didn’t know that when I was in first grade. But I did know that because we were in God’s house, we needed to “keep silence.” This was the only appropriate response to being in our Presbyterian version of God’s holy temple. Week after week, Mrs. Merrill implored us to “keep silence.” And, for the most part, we did. Church was a place of quiet, seriousness, and reverence. Honestly, I didn’t feel much gladness when I was in God’s house.
Only later in life did I realize that my fellow first graders and I had missed out on an essential part of what it means to be in God’s presence. Yes, there are times for silence, absolutely. But Psalm 122:1 reads, “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD.’” The Hebrew word translated as rejoice is found throughout the Psalms. When it is associated with some kind of human response, that response is not silence. Usually it is a very noisy response. In Psalm 92:4, for example, we read, “For you make me glad by your deeds, LORD; I sing for joy at what your hands have done.” Rejoicing should be expressed in song, in dance, even in shouts of praise.
I’m not criticizing Mrs. Merrill here, by the way. She was an amazing woman who had a big heart of love. She was doing her best to keep a hundred squirrely first graders in order. But I am reminded by Psalm 122:1 that being in God’s presence isn’t just a solemn and silent thing. It’s also a joyous thing. When we come together with the people of God to worship the Lord, it’s a time for robust celebration. As we read in Psalm 100:1-2, “Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth. Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.” Perhaps if we learned to celebrate a bit more in our worship, we’d feel more gladness about going to “the house of the Lord.”
Something to Think About:
When you were young, did you experience church as a place of gladness? Or was it more a place to be serious?
How do you feel about “going to church”? Is this something you look forward to? Or is it something you do out of obligation? Or is it something you tend to avoid?
What helps you to feel joy in God’s presence? What helps you to worship with gladness?
Something to Do:
The next time you are worshiping with the people of God, ask the Lord for the gift of joy. Let that joy inspire your worship.
Gracious God, I must confess that sometimes I’m not glad about coming to “your house.” Sometimes your people can be so dour! And, frankly, sometimes I can take your grace utterly for granted. Help me, Lord, to rejoice when I get time with you and your people. By your Spirit, may I worship you with joy that comes from the experience of your love and grace. Amen.