Psalm 118 - Lord, save us!

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Of David.
1) Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever.

2) Let Israel say:
“His love endures forever.”
3 Let the house of Aaron say:
“His love endures forever.”
4 Let those who fear the Lord say:
“His love endures forever.”

5) When hard pressed, I cried to the Lord;
he brought me into a spacious place.
6) The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?
7) The Lord is with me; he is my helper.
I look in triumph on my enemies.

8) It is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to trust in humans.
9) It is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to trust in princes.
10) All the nations surrounded me,
but in the name of the Lord I cut them down.
11) They surrounded me on every side,
but in the name of the Lord I cut them down.
12) They swarmed around me like bees,
but they were consumed as quickly as burning thorns;
in the name of the Lord I cut them down.
13) I was pushed back and about to fall,
but the Lord helped me.
14) The Lord is my strength and my defense;
he has become my salvation.

15) Shouts of joy and victory
resound in the tents of the righteous:
“The Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!
16) The Lord’s right hand is lifted high;
the Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!”
17) I will not die but live,
and will proclaim what the Lord has done.
18) The Lord has chastened me severely,
but he has not given me over to death.
19) Open for me the gates of the righteous;
I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.
20) This is the gate of the Lord
through which the righteous may enter.
21) I will give you thanks, for you answered me;
you have become my salvation.

22) The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
23) the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes.
24) The Lord has done it this very day;
let us rejoice today and be glad.

25) Lord, save us!
Lord, grant us success!

1)26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
From the house of the Lord we bless you.
1)27 The Lord is God,
and he has made his light shine on us.
With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession
up to the horns of the altar.

1)28 You are my God, and I will praise you;
you are my God, and I will exalt you.

1)29 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever.

Psalm 118 (NRSV*)
6th Sunday of Lent - Liturgy of the Palms, verses 1-2, 19-29
Easter Sunday, verses 1-2, 14-24
2nd Sunday of Easter, Year C, verses 14-29

A Christian will understandably hear this psalm in a Christian context. In the lectionary cycle, this psalm is only read 3 times: the Sunday before Easter, the Sunday after Easter, and on Easter Sunday. Imagery evokes Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, his torment and ultimate deliverance from death, his role as the "chief cornerstone" of God's kingdom, and that statement familiar from the Liturgy of the Mass, "blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord." And those faithful echoes may be part of a believer's prayer.

Yet these words were prayed faithfully long before Jesus turned to Jerusalem.

This psalm is set within Israel's tradition, of Abraham's progeny, Aaron's priesthood, and David's songbook. Moreover, it speaks of well-known human experience: of being hard-pressed, surrounded by enemies, and of crying out to God. Like so many psalms, it is set square between God's blessings to the faithful, and the danger posed by enemies.

"Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!"
- so we hope and pray. Everyone wants to be prosperous, healthy, and safe. Many of the psalms and other Wisdom literature may be read in a very simplistic way. Do good, and good will follow. Follow the rules and all will go well. Love the Lord, show up at the Temple with your offerings, and you will be blessed. This theology of Acts-Consequences is still prevalent today.

Yet much of the Bible deals with the fallout from this mechanistic, at best partially-true view of the world. We believe in God, we pray for victory... yet sometimes we are the ones cut down and down-trodden. If this were not true, even this psalm would not remark that "the stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone." Does God always work like this? Does God love a comeback story as much as we do?

When you are in the depths, salvation may look a very long way away. The psalm turns again and again to a testimony of hope. I was about to fall, and the Lord helped me, he brought me to a spacious place, you answered me, you have become my salvation.

We know that not every situation ends well. But we know that hope is a vital ingredient of a survival strategy. Believing may not make it so, but believing helps make it possible. Knowing that God vindicates the faithful, that God is a deliverer, that God takes the rejected and builds them up. It is marvelous in our eyes. These are the righteous gates we wish to enter, and give thanks to the Lord. May the shouts of joy and victory resound in our tents!

This is not just a fantasy or a self-help motivational gimmick. It is the testimony of the community of the faithful throughout the ages, who say again and again, "God's love endures forever." Amen and amen.

Credits:
Gerhard Gellinger, Emotions Joy Happy Festival, Pixabay license.
* New Revised Standard Version Bible (NRSV), copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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