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For many of you, this morning marks your initial introduction to ‘The Te Deum.’ A few of you may be more familiar with it. A few of you may be able to sing in from memory.
For the sake of those for whom the “Te Deum” is new, let’s begin by reciting it together just to get the lay of the land. Would you turn in your hymnal to page 223. And let’s speak together verses 1-4….
It is said that the “Te Deum” is one of the most widely sung hymns of praise to God in the history of the Christian Church. And that may well be true. This morning, we join our own voices to that history that continues into the present and goes on into the future.
One of the many gifts that God has given to His people is the invitation to pray. It’s pretty incredible when you think about it. As hard as you may try to speak with the President of the U.S. or the Governor of Maine or to a real person in ‘tech-services,’ you’re chances of actually getting their individual attention is pretty small. But almighty God, the ruler of the Universe, who Created it all and holds it all together – we can always get right through to Him, with no ‘wait time’, and He always hears us and always answers us.
That’s what we’re doing when we sing the Te Deum. We are not speaking to each other or to ourselves. Nor are we speaking ‘about God.’ We are speaking directly to God – “We praise you, O God; we acknowledge You to be the Lord….” We’re speaking to the Triune God as though He were right here among us – which He is, OR as if we were present before His heavenly throne, which we are.
Writing to the Romans, Paul says, “We do not know how to pray as we ought…” We’re not sure what to say or how to say it. So some of the best praying that we do is when we use words that have been carefully worked out over time. That’s what the “Te Deum” is. It’s words that are given to us to speak to God, and it says it all so, so well.
We begin with pure praise of God, which is always a good way to begin any prayer. We are not complaining or asking for anything. Simply praising and thanking Him for who He is and what He has done for us.
So, what usually happens when we praise God is, our prayer sounds a whole lot like a confession of faith. Almost like a Creed. We praise God simply by saying back to Him what He has first said to us. He says, “I am the Lord your God.” And we confess back to Him, “we acknowledge you to be the Lord.” The “Te Deum” merges together our prayer of praise and confession of faith into one glorious song.
Luther said that the “Te Deum” actually deserved to be ranked right along side of the Apostles, Nicene and Athanasian Creeds as one of the ‘ecumenical’ confessions of the Christian faith.
There are a couple of things about the “Te Deum” that make it particularly ‘special’ and that to be aware of will help us sing it for all it’s worth. I’d like to focus our attention on four.
The Broad Scope of Those who Participate
First, we should be aware of the incredibly broad scope that is included in this prayer. “All the earth now worships You…” Which means the whole CREATION, the ‘created things,’ from the farthest star in the sky to the deepest clam in the sea to the trees and flowers and all the animals, praise and confess God to be the Lord.
From “all the earth” it expands to “the heavens and all the pow’rs therein.” As we are used to praying, “the whole company of heaven” prays with us. “The noble army of martyrs,” “the glorious company of the apostles,” “the goodly fellowship of the prophets” “the holy church throughout all the world,” in one, cosmic choir.
So as we sing the “Te Deum” we’re reminded that we’re not alone. Elijah thought he was the only person of faith left in the world. But here, we’re reminded that “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…” (Heb.12:1). And we add our voice to theirs and they add their voice to ours and heaven and earth and past and present and future are joined together – “We praise You, O God, we acknowledge you to be the Lord…”
Solidly Centered In The Mystery of the Trinity
The second thing to be aware of is that our praise and confession is solidly centered in the mystery of the Trinity. “The Father of an infinite majesty;
Your adorable, true and only Son;
also the Holy Ghost the Comforter.”
Father, Son and Holy Ghost, three persons, yet one God. Each ‘person’ is fully God, distinct from the others. And yet there are not three God but one God. The ‘mystery’ here is so profound that we can never get to the bottom of it. There is always more God to praise and always more wonder to ‘acknowledge’, and the song never grows old and we never grow weary of singing it.
Speak 5-6 – p.224
And now we are ready to speak the second part of the Te Deum together on page 224. Let’s speak together vss. 5-6….
Up until this point, all of our attention has been directed UPWARD. But now our attention is directed DOWNWARD. Even though the cross is not directly mentioned, we know why God came down. So here, our praise and confession is more solemn and humble, and is set in a minor key.
The Te Deum leads us to praise God for the wonder of the INCARNATION – God entered His own creation, not as almighty God, but as weak and helpless infant. And all for one purpose – to restore His creation to its intended goodness again and to redeem fallen and sinful man. The “true, adorable and only Son,” the “king of glory,” the “everlasting Son of the Father” atoned for the sin of the world by His DEATH, even death on a cross.
This is the love of God for you and for me and for “all the earth.” Here we proclaim the DEATH and the RESURRECTION and the ASECENSION of the Son of God who, by His love has “opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.”
When we sing the Te Deum we are singing the gospel. The good news of life and salvation that we could not win for ourselves, but that God has won for us in His Son, Jesus Christ – while we were still sinners.
Vss. 7-9 p.225
Now, we’re ready for the final section of this hymn. Let’s recite verses 7-9 together…
Having voiced our praise to God and acknowledged Him to be the Lord, even as our attention is ultimately focused on the cross of Christ, the direction of the “Te Deum” takes a turn. Up to this point, our voices have been joined with “all the earth,” and the “heavens and all the powers therein.”
But now, we separate ourselves from the church triumphant and huddle up in the church militant. From pure praise of God with “the heavens and all the powers therein,” we, who are still in this world, this fallen and sinful world and who still daily struggle with the sin that is in us, ask God to “help your servants” so that we may “never be confounded.”
We are surrounded by evil and constantly faced with temptation to compromise what we know to be true and right for the sake of acceptance or material gain or to keep from losing something, maybe even our life. We pray that the Lord would keep us in this ‘one true faith’ until we breathe our final breath and our heart beats its final beat, and He “makes us to be numbered with Your saints, in glory everlasting.”
So, the Te Deum is rooted in BOTH the orthodox CHRISTIAN FAITH BASED ON GOD’S WORD as well as the REALISTIC HUMAN EXPERIENCE of God’s people. We BOTH acknowledge God to be the Lord and acknowledge our own weakness and frailty in this fallen and dangerous world.
It covers the whole gamut of things from THE CREATION IN THE BEGINNING to the CONSUMATION OF THE WORLD on the LAST DAY with JESUS COMES AGAIN. It brings us to the foot of the cross of Christ and takes us into the Kingdom of Heaven in the Spirit. It brings together the PEOPLE OF GOD in heaven and on earth and unites our voices together as ‘ONE, HOLY CHRISTIAN CHURCH.’
And the only thing left for us to do now, is sing it. We stand.