Psalm 104:24-35 - link to the NRSV text
There are two particular themes in Psalm 104 that makes it suitable for Pentecost: first is creation, at times echoing language from Genesis 1. Creation is a constant theme throughout the psalm, going through a litany of creative acts by God: the heavens, the earth, the waters, vegetation, celestial bodies. The sea is the last focus of this creation theme, picked up at the beginning of our lection for the day in verses 24-26.
Verses 27-30 that follow are a celebration of creation’s dependence upon God; the psalmist imagines God as one who gives and takes life and vitality, a strong image of providential care and oversight by the deity. But the issue isn’t really about whether God is a great lever-puller that causes the sun to rise and set or for rain to fall or not. Instead, the very existence of creation hinges upon God.
It’s almost like a stack of Jenga blocks; there is that one Jenga block holding the whole thing up, and if you remove it, it all comes crashing down. And yes, I know it’s a very imperfect analogy, but it seems that for the author of this psalm, the stack of the created order is held up solely by the activity of God. Or as Karl Barth put it:
We exist and heaven and earth exist in their complete, supposed infinity, because God gives them existence…Everything outside of God is held constant by God over nothingness (Karl Barth, Dogmatics in Outline, 54-55).
In this theme of creation is a sense of universality; because God is the source of all, creator of all, all things have their being in and through God, then the psalm is almost inviting the reader (or hearer) to open themselves to the wider reality around them.
And in a way, this is the miracle of Pentecost: the disciples and the other Jesus-followers are filled by the in-rushing Spirit of God, and they “began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability” (Acts 2:4). It is a widening of God’s activity in the world, authorized and commissioned by Jesus to the ends of the earth (cf. Luke 24:46-49, Acts 1:8) and now empowered by the gift of God’s indwelling Spirit. You have the list of peoples in Acts 2:8-11 as a witness to God’s now widening mission in the world. And the heavens and earth, the creation itself will be a witness to God’s new work (Acts 2:19-20).
And it’s this idea of God’s creative and life-giving Spirit which is our second theme for Pentecost. In this context, the psalmist’s confession in verse 30 is being lived out among the early church: that God sends the Spirit upon the people and they are created (or re-created) in order to renew the face of the ground or earth (Hebrew: adamah) from which we, humankind (Hebrew: adam) were created.
The New Testament hope for a new creation and a restoration of the world is not only one that is an echo of Jesus’ Resurrection, but also one of their experience of the Spirit’s re-creative power in the life of the church. And for those who also have such hope for this world and the world to come in the fullness of God’s reign, we echo the words of the psalmist, that we will sing as love as we live and while we have being, and that such celebration shall be pleasing to God. It is an affirmation of the God who creates and re-creates, who offers new life and hope through Christ and the gift of the Spirit, and who commissions the Spirit-empowered and Christ-embodying church in order to be God’s agents of new life in the world.