Being Alive

A Reflection on Psalm 118 verses 14-24 by Canon Rob, Easter Day

When asked how he felt, having recovered from a heart attack, the patient replied, “I’m glad to be here,” and that would probably be a common response because, unless we are clinically depressed or suicidal, we cling on to life. “I’m glad to be here” is affirmation of the gift of life and that is true whether or not we have a faith in God.

Psalm 118 is an ancient hymn of praise and thanksgiving for the gift of life and is believed to have been written, after a great national event, to be sung in the Temple of Jerusalem by three different groups of people. (See verses 2-4). The verses used in churches today can be seen in the light of a victory. They may have been recited by the king at the time: certainly a leader of the people. Verse 14: “The Lord is my strength and my song and he has become my salvation.” Whichever it is, he is speaking not just for himself but on behalf of the whole people who are celebrating with him. Verse 18 shows that things did not go well. It begins, “The Lord punished me sorely.” We are not told what that punishment was. Perhaps it was a battle which was won after a long and painful struggle. However it ended well: for the Lord “has not given me over to death.”

Jump ahead in time to today, Easter Day, and the verses of Psalm 118 are read in a very different context to that in which they were originally meant. Yet they are entirely appropriate because they are for us a hymn of thanksgiving and praise for the gift of new life in Jesus who, three days after he died on the cross, was raised to life again. The resurrection is the victory of all victories: one which remains true for all time and nothing can take it away. Easter Day is indeed “the day which the Lord has made.” (See verses 24).

Verse 22 can be read in conjunction with Mark’s Gospel, chapter 12 verses 1 – 12, and especially verse 11 where Jesus quotes that verse from the psalm: “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” In the passage from the Gospel Jesus is telling the Parable of the Tenants in the Vineyard, at the end of which it is clear that he is the stone. The parable is a real turning point in Jesus’ public ministry and he uses it to tell his disciples that he will soon not only be rejected but killed. However, death will not be the end. It will mark a new beginning and he will rise again and reign over the world in glory. (You might also find it helpful to reflect upon verses 18 – 27 of chapter 12 where Jesus answered a question put to him about life after death.)

The verses of the Psalm 118, which we are reflecting upon, make it very clear that God is the One who always takes the initiative when it comes to the gift of life on both sides of the grave. Verse 14, where we begin today, tells us, “The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.” We cannot save ourselves. Only God can do that. So, in verse 21 we find the words, “I will give thanks to you, [the Lord] for you have answered me and have become my salvation.” The death and resurrection of Jesus are the ultimate proof of this and it was to show the world God loves us all completely that Jesus, the chief cornerstone, died and rose again on the first Easter Day.

On this day of all days, we are encouraged therefore to reflect upon what all this means for us, both collectively as “an Easter people,” and also as individual members of Christ’s Body, the Church. We know that Jesus was rejected and history shows that many who have followed Jesus have also been rejected. Our story is no fairy tale. However today also shows that there is a way of living in which we can be certain that Jesus Christ, our Saviour, is alive and present with us always, whatever life throws at us. This becomes clear the more we make time to be aware of his presence. Above the door of Pomposa Abbey in northern Italy is an inscription in Latin which translated means, “Let us love what is eternal and not what is transient.” Today we celebrate what is eternal. Have a truly Happy and Blessed Easter! Alleluia!!

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his mercy endures for ever.