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Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

This psalm was also the psalm set for the celebration of Palm Sunday. See the comments for last week. The verses chosen do vary slightly. The reading for Palm Sunday starts later and goes through to v. 29 in the psalm while the main section set for today begins at v. 14 and stops at v. 24. I will include the extra verses in the comments here. This psalm has had a strong connection with the Easter season from the time of the early church.

After the introduction to the psalm in vv. 1-2, we move to the middle of the psalm. As noted last week, a significant threat to Israel is described in vv. 10–13, and the verses following celebrate the victory that God has won in delivering the people.

Verse 14 calls to mind God’s saving actions in Israel’s past. It echoes Exodus 15:2, from a poem often called the ‘Song at the Sea’ and sometimes known as ‘Miriam’s Song’ after Exodus 15:21. In echoing this earlier song, the psalmist calls to mind God’s power to rescue shown in the crossing of the Reed Sea. With vv. 10–13 setting out a military threat, then followed by a recall of the destruction of the Egyptian army in v. 14, it seems most likely that the psalm was originally one for the celebration of an unexpected military victory.

The poem continues with a brief hymn to the ‘right hand of the Lord’, another way of speaking about the Lord’s power. The psalmist cries out following this deliverance ‘I shall not die, but I shall live’ (v. 17a). This indeed is a fitting selection for Easter Day picking up on the theme of Jesus’ resurrection. The psalmist was not speaking about resurrection in general, let alone their own personal rising from the dead. The psalm uses the language of not dying but living quite literally, indicating that the Lord’s intervention on behalf of the people has saved their lives. But read in the context of Easter Day, the psalm takes on another meaning. It now implies that the psalmist, and indeed all who are rescued from death or a death like existence, participates in the resurrection life of Jesus. The victory of life over death in Jesus’ resurrection, and as reflected in every deliverance of God’s people, now opens the way for the psalmist to process through the ‘gates of righteousness and give thanks’. The language becomes liturgical in nature from v. 19 onwards. The mixture of singular and plural pronouns (especially vv. 23-27) in this psalm allows the words, which may have been initially those of the king, to become the words of the whole people. Thus, these people are called to give thanks again to the Lord whose steadfast love endures forever.’ (v. 29)

Suggestions for the use of the psalm in worship:

A traditional call to worship for Easter Day is from Psalm 118:22-24:

The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Verses 1-2, or even as far as v. 4, could also function as a responsive acclamation or call to worship at the start of the service:
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his steadfast love endures forever!
Let Israel say,
‘his steadfast love endures forever.’
Let the house of Aaron say,
‘his steadfast love endures forever.’
Let those who fear the Lord say,
‘his steadfast love endures forever.’
Psalm 118 provides further acclamations well suited to Easter Day which could be used during and after prayers and readings.

As a congregational refrain during the prayer of confession, v. 25 could be used:

Save us, we beseech you, O Lord! O Lord, we beseech you, give us success!
Following the declaration of forgiveness after the prayer of confession the following verses (vv. 14, 17, 21) would be appropriate acclamations by the congregation:
The Lord is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.

I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord.

I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.

Following the reading of the Gospel story of the resurrection of Jesus, v. 23 would be a suitable acclamation of faith:
This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.
Old Testament reading (alternative): Jeremiah 31:1-6

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