Last Sunday, more than fifty voices filled the Choir at St. Andrew’s Cathedral. They were participants in the Mississippi Conference for Church Music and Liturgy and it was the closing service. Among the beautiful anthems they sang was Sir C. Hubert H. Parry’s setting of Psalm 122, “I Was Glad”, which was composed for the coronation of England's King Edward VII in 1902.
That particular anthem always speaks to the deepest places of my soul. But long before I heard the music, I learned the opening verse. I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord.
Mr. Robert Frantis was my third grade Sunday School teacher and he asked us to memorize that verse. I will always be grateful to him for giving us that homework because that one verse formed in me a positive and passionate appreciation for the worship of God, which is a good thing to have in any case but especially if you are called to ordained ministry.
Not many years ago, I became curious about the word glad. When I investigated the word and its origins, here’s what I found:
Glad is an adjective. Its origins are as follows: Old English glæd “bright, shining, gleaming; joyous; pleasant, gracious” (also as a noun, “joy, gladness”), from Proto-Germanic gladaz (source also of Old Norse glaðr “smooth, bright, glad,” Danish glad “glad, joyful,” Old Saxon gladmod, in which the element means “glad,” Old Frisian gled “smooth,” Dutch glad “slippery,” German glatt "smooth"), from Proto-Indo-European root ghel- “to shine.” Apparently the notion is of being radiant with joy; the modern sense “feeling pleasure or satisfaction” is much weakened.
My takeaway from all of that is that is the perfect description of how I feel about the opportunity to worship God – “I was radiant with joy when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord.” Gathering with God’s people in a sacred space set apart for divine worship truly makes my heart glad.
Corporate worship, which is essential to the life of every Christian and the life of every Christian community, is something I always look forward to. Why is that? Perhaps it is because it is one time in my week or my day that is guaranteed not to be about me. It is about God and the other people in my life. It is an opportunity to get myself off my hands, set aside my own pursuits, and to be vulnerable before my Creator.
In the traditional Eucharistic liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer, at the beginning of the service, the Priest recites Jesus’ summary of the law:
Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.
That summary reminds us why we are gathered; it’s all about God and the neighbors. In worship, my thoughts, concerns, activities, and priorities are regularly restored to the default settings given by Jesus Christ himself and I am reminded once again that it is not all about me. That makes my heart glad. That causes me to be radiant with joy.
Here’s a recording of Parry’s “I Was Glad.” It says it all.
I’ll see you in Church!
The Very Reverend Ronald D. Pogue
St. Andrew’s Cathedral