Summary: Year C Easter Sunday April 15, 2001 Psalm 118
Year C Easter Sunday April 15, 2001
Title: “Pointing out to another what we have experienced from God’s hand to share the joy of solution.”
This Song of Thanksgiving was sung in the context of a thank offering liturgy. We can easily divide the Psalm into two scenes: verses one to nineteen would be sung in procession up to the Temple entrance and verses twenty to twenty-nine would continue after entry during the presentation of gifts. The first half is spoken about Yahweh; the second half is spoken to Yahweh. One is outside and pertains to the ministry of praise to others, encouraging them to recognize Yahweh’s actions and join in on the praise and thanks; the other is inside where the righteous assembly already recognizes Yahweh’s presence but delights nonetheless in hearing about it. This Psalm is pretty typical of other thanksgiving Psalms, beginning with a call to praise and or give thanks in verses one to four, a recounting of the movement from distress of some sort to deliverance in verses five to nineteen, and mixture of personal testimony and communal “Amen-ing” and affirmation in verses twenty to twenty-nine.
The New Testament quotes or alludes to this Psalm often: at Jesus’ entrance to Jerusalem; in regard to Jesus’ passion and resurrection. It became the “Easter Psalm” of the Church in both east and west because of its reference to the rejected stone or cornerstone, the great day of deliverance and its spirit of joyful thanksgiving for Yahweh’s great deeds. This Psalm can easily be sung antiphonally, like the chorus in a Greek play or a choir in monastic Divine Office, and probably was so in the liturgical assembly, fitting a wide range of “That was then, this is now” scenarios from celebrations of military victories to individual deliverances from diseases and or a variety of “enemies.” It is equally well suited for private prayer of thanksgiving.
In verses one to four, house of Israel…house of Aaron…those who fear the Lord: This liturgical call to praise starts out with all of Israel being invited, specifies the priests, the house of Aaron, and generalizes to those who qualify to enter the Temple, the righteous, God-fearing Jews. Each invitation is followed by a repeated refrain extolling the loyal and everlasting love of Yahweh, a name mentioned in virtually every verse either as Yahweh or Yah, the short form.
In verses five to nine, in a “That was then, this is now” motif the singer recalls the distress he was in and contrasts it to the joy he now feels that God had delivered him. The “distress” has been identified as anything from a military battle to battle with false accusers to sickness to near-death. Regardless of the occasion the pattern is the same: movement from disorientation with life to re-orientation into a renewal of life. Verses eight and nine quote two Wisdom proverbs praising trust in God over trust in anything else, especially human beings and human powers. Only this trust dispels fear.
Verses ten to fourteen, the distress is now described in more intensified terms and compared to being under siege by the rest of the world; attacked by a swarm of stinger bees; and being trapped in a fire. Despite whatever opposition, the Lord has been his savior “salvation” and he wants the whole world to know it.
Verses fifteen to eighteen, from the vantage point of victory and deliverance over whatever the problem was, the singer can now interpret the disorienting experience as God’s chastisement, painful but “tough love”. In the tradition of Wisdom Literature he sees his misfortune and humiliation as part of divine discipline. Yahweh is like a loving Father who allows his Son to be in a tight spot in order that he may learn grace under fire, how to endure the stings of life and become stronger as a result of adversity. If the Father, God, has to step in at the last minute he will, but prefers the Son learn necessary lessons for life. Nonetheless he knows his success was the Lord’s doing and he is glad to testify to that fact.
Verses nineteen, open the gates of victory, “gates of righteousness.” This would refer to the Temple gates. Only those qualified were allowed to enter. The priests and Temple guards would be there like a border patrol to let pass only those who were “righteous,” that is the, qualified Jews. Ideally, righteousness is based on a right relationship with God, not external credentials. He will now offer his thanks to the Lord in the form of a sacrificial gift. Christians would see Christ saying this at heaven’s entrance.
The following verses may well have been sung antiphonally, back and forth between either the singer and the priests or the choir or the assembly. It is impossible to tell. For our purposes it is best to view them as more or less related confessional statements, that is, testimonies to the Lord and his ways.