Hallelujah! Praise God in the holy temple; praise God in the mighty firmament.
Praise God for mighty acts; praise God for exceeding greatness.
Praise God with trumpet sound; praise God with lyre and harp.
Praise God with tambourine and dance; praise God with strings and pipe.
Praise God with resounding cymbals; praise God with loud clanging cymbals.
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Hallelujah!
My sermon from the memorial service for Ruth Eastlund on October 13, 2018. Translation from Evangelical Lutheran Worship.
“The book of psalms is a polyphony of song.” In our context, we usually read the psalms out loud. We try, as best we can, to speak in a meter and speed that brings life to the poetic words on the page. But these poems were meant to be sung. They’re designed to be accompanied by music. Some might have been written for entire choirs while others were meant to be sung when we’re alone and our sighs are too deep for words. These 150 separate texts were written over five centuries by authors scattered all over ancient Israel and parts of modern day Iraq. So this book contains within it a multitude of voices – yet each one transcends their historical context. A poet sitting on the banks of the Euphrates River had no idea that all of us, 2500 years later, would be reading their words today. But that’s the power of the psalms. They can, in a moment, “address different contexts simultaneously.” The songs that gave life to the ancient citizens of Jerusalem are the same ones that gave life to Ruth. She chose all the hymns, music, and readings we are sharing today. Now some of these we might know by heart. For example, Psalm 23 is the standard psalm spoken at most funerals and memorial services. Yet it’s a psalm that’s never emptied of its power or importance. Rather, it grows, evolves, and changes as we celebrate all the people who loved the Lord. The green pastures and the banks of those still waters are full of every person we’ve ever loved. And that’s why Psalm 23 is a piece of Scripture that will never grow old no matter how old we actually are.
But Psalm 150 is a psalm we usually don’t hear. And it’s probably one of only two psalms that were written for the book of Psalms itself. Psalm 1 was designed as an introduction to the entire book after the individual songs were collected, collated, and put into a final form. But that collection needed an ending. So Psalm 150 was probably written to sort-of summarize everything that came before it. Now, it’s almost impossible to summarize all 149 separate songs. Their content alone is vast and varied. Some were written to celebrate the crowning of ancient kings and queens while others are full of sea monsters and tales about the creation of the universe. The psalms also contain almost all human emotions, from the highest joys to the lowest lows. And within its pages we find incredible happiness and incredible sorrow, sometimes only a few verses apart. On one level, the book of Psalms is as vast and varied as each one of us. It’s a book designed to be a soundtrack to human life. So it’s fitting that Psalm 150 is the unique reading that Ruth chose. As she looked back at her life – at every experience that made her who she was and while thinking about every person she loved – what made the most sense to her was to just sing.
I had the privilege to get to know Ruth over these last few years. She wasn’t able to attend church as much as she used to but when she was here, it was as if her entire body and soul absorbed every word that was sung and every note that was played. I’d see her sitting in her pew, right over there, her eyes and her ears glued to the music and man she loved. Ken, over these last few years, did more than offer up his own musical gifts in the church. He also sung for her. She would mention that to me from time to time, usually in the middle of a story about the choir she grew up with in Minnesota or while bragging about how much she adored her grand and great-grand children. I know her life over these last few years wasn’t easy. And she embodied that Northern European pride that made her as tough and as stubborn as she could possibly be. But no matter what these years brought her, they couldn’t stop her song. It didn’t matter that her voice could no longer sing the way it use to because the song of her faith, her love, her family, and her joy could never be taken away. Her song was a gift from the Lord. And she knew that she was Jesus’ and Jesus was hers. We will miss her deeply. Yet she now rests with the eternal song maker, joining her voice with every angel, trumpet, lyre, and harp, as they sing together around Christ’s heavenly throne – forever and ever.