A Reflection on Psalm 118.14-24 by Canon Rob,
9th April 2023, Easter Day
The hymn, “Thine be the Glory” (672 in the hymn book we use at St Dunstan’s) always brought our Easter Morning Eucharist to an end at the Church of the Transfiguration in Kempston, near Bedford, where I was the Vicar for 15 happy years. The worship was very much like ours at St Dunstan’s, but what made singing this hymn memorable was that it was the only occasion when we all let our hair down and vigorously waved the pew sheets each time we reached the chorus!! “Thine be the glory, risen, conqu’ring Son, endless is the vict’ry thou o’er death has won.” It was simple joy after weeks of learning through Lent and entering the pain of Holy Week.
We find the same joy in today’s psalm which was almost certainly written to celebrate a great national event and which is perfect for Easter Day. Verse 14, where our reading begins, clearly recalls the Song of Moses, following the Israelites’ safe crossing of the Red Sea, which you can read about in the Book of Exodus Chapter 15. Verse 2 of that chapter in the NRSV translation of the Bible says, “The Lord is my strength and my might, and he has become my salvation.” The psalm is a hymn of praise to God who, alone, has won a great victory and has saved His people.
Some commentators believe Psalm 118 was written to celebrate victory after a battle in which many suffered. If so, then verses 14 – 18 may be the king, or other leader, retelling the relief when it was over. Verse 15 might possibly be a reference to the soldiers’ celebration: “Joyful shouts of salvation sound from the tents of the righteous.” Certainly verse 16 are words spoken, or sung, praising God: “The right hand of the Lord does mighty deeds; the right hand of the Lord raises up.” Then, like the earlier verses which we don’t use today, the tone becomes personal: “I shall not die, but live and declare the works of the Lord. The Lord has punished me sorely, but he has not given me over to death.” As you reflect upon these words, it’s not difficult to see why these verses are set for today. Again, as you reflect upon verse 19, you can imagine a procession reaching Jerusalem, or perhaps another major city, with the king at the front shouting: “Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter and give thanks to the Lord.” The national celebration, mentioned above, will soon begin!
Verse 22 may sound familiar to you. They are words which were spoken by Jesus, about himself. We find them in Matthew 21.42 when, having told the Parable of the Tenants in the Vineyard (where Jesus is the son of the owner of the vineyard who is killed by the tenants) he says, “Haven’t you ever read what the Scriptures say? ‘The stone which the builders rejected as worthless turned out to be the most important of all.’” [See also Mark 12.10, Luke 20.17, Acts 4.8-12 and 1 Peter 2.1-10. You might also like to look up Isaiah 28.14-17.] Verses 23 and 24 are important for us at Easter for they remind us that all that happens is because God acts. “This is the Lord’s doing…” and “This is the day that the Lord has made….” In her book, “Let Me Go There”, Paula Gooder says that the writers of the Bible “describe God’s character in terms of what he had done.” In the Old Testament, God freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. In the New Testament God raised Jesus from the dead. She believes it is possible to read the Bible as if everything happened in the past. But she says, “If God has saved people in the past we can be confident that he will do so again and again.” We find confirmation of this in the first and last verses of Psalm 118: “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his mercy endures for ever.”
God bless you this Easter time.
God of glory, by the raising of your Son you have broken the chains of death and hell:
fill your Church with faith and hope; for a new day has dawned and the way of life stands open in our Saviour Jesus Christ.
[Common Worship Alternative Collect for Easter Day]