Summary: "The Lord is Risen!" "He is risen indeed!"
A CAUSE FOR CELEBRATION
The Orthodox Celebrant passes in and out amongst his congregation, repeating his announcement in the indigenous language of each people group: ‘The Lord is Risen!’ Each ethnic group answers in their own native tongue: ‘He is risen indeed!’ The appropriate response to the Easter message is, first and foremost, celebration (Psalm 118:1-2).
Psalm 118:14-24 has long been used by the Christian Church as a part of the Easter message. These verses are included in the lectionary readings for Easter Sunday, in all years. The same verses are often sung in seasons of Communion in non-liturgical churches.
This is not without Biblical precedent. The Psalm itself is the last of the processional Psalms which were sung by pilgrims on their way up to Jerusalem for the great Jewish feasts. There are echoes of the Passover, and anticipations of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Psalm 118:14 takes us back to the Song of Moses (Exodus 15:2). The more exact translation in both instances is: “The LORD is my strength and song, and is become my salvation.” These are the words of the Psalmist who had been undergoing some measure of persecution (e.g. Psalm 118:13).
They could also be the words of Jesus, who had found ‘all nations’ encompassing him with malice (Psalm 118:10-12). They are also words of praise for individual believers out of the midst of their own trials (cf. Isaiah 12:1-2).
The celebrating pilgrims hear the sound of rejoicing from within the City, represented as “the tents of the righteous” (Psalm 118:15). Hosannas (cf. Matthew 21:9) echo from the stones (cf. Luke 19:40). Voice answers to voice, both within and outside the Temple, with a triple reference to “The right hand of the Lord” (Psalm 118:15-16).
A lone voice rises above them all: “I shall not die but live” (Psalm 118:17). Are these the words of the Psalmist in his affliction, now being uttered by the leader of the procession on behalf of the pilgrim party; or are they words put into the mouth of the individual sufferer? Ultimately, they are the words of Jesus who, having been dead, yet lives to “declare the works of the LORD.”
Jesus has faced death, gone through death, and conquered death on behalf of us all (Psalm 118:18). Jesus was ‘crucified in weakness, but He lives in God’s power’ (2 Corinthians 13:4). We also live in the power of His resurrection – not only in the hereafter, but in the ‘now’ of our experience.
The leader of the pilgrims cries out to the gateman of the Temple: “Open to me the gates of righteousness…” (Psalm 118:19). Jesus is the forerunner, gone into heaven on our behalf (cf. Hebrews 6:20). We too may “enter the gates of righteousness and give thanks (praise) to the LORD.”
The reply comes from within: “This is the gate of the LORD, into which the righteous shall enter” (Psalm 118:20). The righteous are those who have been rescued by the LORD: those who have been made ‘right with God through the Lord Jesus Christ’ (cf. Romans 5:1). It is Jesus who has ascended into heaven (Ephesians 4:8), and we in Him (Ephesians 2:6).
The lone voice is heard once more (Psalm 118:21). In effect - “Thank you, LORD, for hearing and answering my prayer: it is you who have saved me.” The sufferer acknowledges his deliverance; Jesus acknowledges the Father’s hand in overcoming death; and the repenting sinner embraces the full free salvation which is ours in Christ Jesus.
The use of this Psalm in Christian worship, and the association of these words with Jesus, is firmly underlined in Psalm 118:22-23, which is quoted extensively in the New Testament. The irony is that the One who was cast aside and left for dead, is the very One who holds the whole building together (Ephesians 2:20). “The stone which the builders rejected” who is made “head stone of the corner” is Jesus.
Jesus uses these words of Himself (Matthew 21:42). Peter argued for the resurrection from this text (Acts 4:10-12). It is the touchstone (no pun intended) which marks out the difference between those who believe, and the disobedient (1 Peter 2:6-8).
The morning I wrote this, I was meditating on Psalm 118:24. Afterwards I went out for a walk, and thought I heard someone say, ‘What a beautiful day’ – after which they added the words, “Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” If the day is beautiful, it is the Lord who has made it so.
If there ever was a moment when the Sabbath shifted from what we call Saturday to what we call Sunday, it was on what we call Easter Sunday. We are living in a new day: not just for 24 hours, but ever hereafter. Truly, this is cause for celebration.