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Approaching the Altar of My God

A Choral Reading Based on Psalm 42 and 43

In Psalms 42 and 43 the psalmist speaks of his anxious soul that is disturbed and would rather retreat than encounter the Lord God who is most worthy. The psalmist is assailed with doubts and confusion. His resolve is weak. Yet the psalmist has heard God’s call, and the deep longing of his heart is to hurry to worship the God who he knows loves him.

And so the two psalms oscillate between a confident approach and a doubting retreat. This shows itself in a kind of liturgical stammer, a conflicted hesitation that is not readily resolved.

If we are honest, we often find ourselves in a similar position of hesitation as we enter into worship, though the reasons may be different. It is not likely that we have had to endure the overt taunts of scoffers. But we continually encounter the strident claims of a host of authorities who court our attention and our allegiance. We become confused as we face situations in which the obedient response is not always clear. And we are sometimes properly daunted by our unworthiness to approach the living God in his glory and holiness.

The impulse for this reading is not unlike that of John Calvin’s Strassburg liturgy, which places confession at the beginning of the service: “Let each of you truly acknowledge that he is a sinner, humbling himself before God, and believing that the heavenly Father wills to be gracious unto him in Jesus Christ.”

Approaching the Altar of My God is a choral reading that begins the worship service and is meant to serve as a transition from our workaday world to a time of worship before our God. It gives voice to the uncertainties we feel, to our doubts and confusion. It disarms us of the presumptive familiarity with God we are prone to fall into. It reminds us of the huge distance between us frail creatures and our creator God in his glory and righteousness, a distance we can never bridge on our own. It also reminds us of our longing and need for God.

But it is God who has called us. We hesitate, but we proceed in confidence, buoyed by God’s call and his offer of grace.

Approaching the Altar of My God

The three readers may be positioned at the front or the back of the sanctuary, or, perhaps more effectively, standing in the congregation.

Presentation time: 2 minutes

A   As a deer longs for streams of running water,
B   living water,
A   so my soul longs for you, O God,
C   for the living God.

[pause]

A   I will go to the altar of my God, to God, the joy of my youth.
C   I cry out:
A   When can I go and appear in God’s presence? When can I stand before the face of God?

[pause]

ABC   O Lord, hear my prayer, and let my cry come unto you.

[pause]

B   Why are you disturbed, O my soul? Why are you cast down, disquieted within me?

[pause]

A   Wait for God!
C   Put your hope in God!
B   For I will again give thanks; I will yet give praise to my God for the saving help of his presence.

[pause]

C   These things I remember as I pour out my heart:
A   How I used to walk along with the great throng to the house of God, shouting and giving thanks, shouting and giving thanks along with the crowd.

[pause]

B   I cannot eat. I weep day and night, for all day long they say to me:
A   “Where is your God?”
B   My tears have been my food day and night.
C   My soul melts within me.

[pause]

B   I will go to the altar of God, to God, the joy of my youth.

[pause]

A   When my life was ebbing away I called out to the Lord:
ABC   O Lord, hear my prayer, and let my cry come unto you.

[pause]

C   When shall I come and see the face of God,
B   and know in my heart God’s presence,
C   and know in my life God’s presence?

[pause]

B   I have been lost in the farthest regions, where deep calls to deep.
A   One deep stream calls out to another
C   in the roar of your waterfalls.

[pause]

A   I will go to the altar of God, to the God who gives me joy and gladness.

[pause]

B   Why are you disturbed, O my soul? Why do you sigh within me?

[pause]

A   Wait for God!
C   Put your hope in God!
B   For I will yet give thanks to my God for his saving help.
ABC   You are my stronghold, the God who shelters me.

[pause]

A   Our help is in the name of the Lord,
ABC   who made heaven and earth.

Additional dramatic and choral readings by Douglas Porter can be found at
www.choralreadingsforworship.com