I probably said it at church today about 15 times. You might have said it slightly less. It’s a “religious” word. You find it translated in English Bibles 50 times, always in connection with worship. What am I talking about? It’s the little word: “Amen”.
It’s a Hebrew word that’s been carried straight over into Greek, and virtually all other languages, including English. It means: “Let it to be” or “this is sure to be”.
But “Amen” is one of those words that doesn’t just mean something; it does something (like making wedding vows). There’s more to it than meets the eye. The trouble is that we use the word so much that we don’t notice what it’s actually doing. For many of us, it’s turned into a verbal full-stop; it’s the only way we know to show that a prayer has ended.
Here are 2 ways the word works:
It glues us together
This word is designed to unify the congregation in the act of worship. Notice in these verses that all the people say, “Amen”, not just the man upfront, or a few enthusiastic people!
“Then all the people said, “Amen!” and praised the LORD” (1 Chr 16:36).
“Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God and all the people answered, ‘Amen, Amen’, lifting up their hands” (Neh 8:6)
“Let all the people say, ‘Amen!’ Praise the LORD!” (Psalm 106:48)
One of the things churches have tried to do since the ‘60s is get more people feeling like they’re involved in church services. This has normally involved trying to stick everybody upfront in church, to lead a prayer, to give an announcement, to read a passage. That’s how we’ve tried to make people feel included. But I think it can have the reverse effect. That practice can make the congregation more passive, because it suggests that unless I’m upfront, I’m not involved.
That was never how it worked in the past. You showed your inclusion by saying: “Amen” (1 Cor 14:16). The service was punctuated by these moments where the congregation united in expressing their agreement with what had been said on their behalf. I do wonder if that’s part of the reason why the “amen” is often inaudible in churches today. Its participatory significance has been lost. The congregation has turned into an audience. We’ve slipped into the idea of coming to church as passengers not participants.
Jerome said that in the early church the “Amen” sounded like a waterfall or a thunderclap. Nothing saps the spirits like reaching the end of a prayer and getting a whimper of an “Amen”. I can think of one congregation where I almost jump at how loudly everybody says it! It’s great. It says: “we’re present and engaged in this worship!”.
It seals our worship
This word also rallies our faith in Christ. It’s an emphatic word, designed to reinforce what’s been said. Sometimes the word is doubled up into the phrase: “Amen and Amen”. This phrase is used to conclude books one (Ps 41:13), two (Ps 72:19) and three (Ps 89:52) of the Psalms.
It’s like the congregation licking and sealing the envelope before the letter is posted to God. It’s like the congregation hitting the “send” button on the email. The word conveys a confidence in the practice of prayer. We’re not talking into the air in prayer. Nor are we talking to a God who isn’t very interested or bothered with our worship. We pray to the God of the covenant. Jesus has shed his blood and we will certainly be heard. In fact, “Amen” is one of Jesus’ names (Rev 3:14).
So, saying “Amen” isn’t something to do robotically. It’s definitely not a word to mumble. It’s expressing our uniquely Christian confidence.
As always, the Heidelberg Catechism puts it so well. Q.129 “What does that little word ‘Amen’ express? A. Amen means, this is sure to be! It is even more sure that God listens to my prayer, than that I really desire what I pray for”.
So, this is a word to put our souls into. While measuring the volume of our ‘Amen’ doesn’t automatically tell us about the strength of our faith, the two things are connected. So, give it some welly! Saying “Amen” is a moment in church to savour, as we voice our confidence that God the Father is listening to us for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Then all the people said, ‘Amen’ (1 Chr 16:36).