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Easter 3A Psalm

Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19

Steven Hoskins

A Hallel Psalm

Psalm 116 is among the Hallel Psalms (Psalms 107-150), taken from the rendering of Hallelujah or “Praise be to God,” and is actually part of a smaller unit in the middle of that hymnal that extends from Psalm 113-118. The Hallel Psalms of 113-118 were traditionally sung, verse by verse and repeated antiphonally from priests to people, at the beginning of each month of the Hebrew calendar year and also during various festivals, particularly during the Passover. Psalm 116 was one of the songs sung at the drinking of the last cup of the sacred meal (v. 13).

In the history of the Christian Church, Psalm 116 holds the elevated place of occurring during the traditional Maundy Thursday liturgy as Christians enter the Triduum or three holy days of Easter Weekend. Words like those found in vv. 3-4,

The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish. 4 Then I called on the name of the Lord: “O Lord, I beseech thee, save my life,”

set up the events of the crucifixion well and put the events of the last days of the life of Christ into a proper paschal perspective. In the last century though, Psalm 116 has received some renewed interest as a ‘Hallelujah’ text and has been moved in several lectionaries to Eastertide. This, of course, creates an different and interesting Christological and liturgical opportunity with the text for the preacher. The placing of the text into the life and ministry of the resurrected and exalted Lord changes the preaching territory.

Preaching Psalm 116 in Eastertide

Preaching Psalm 116 in the season of Easter requires a re-interpretation of the message and a sort of ‘flashback’ approach to examining the text. The preaching questions become quite different in a post-resurrection season of praise. The ‘Hallelujah’ is returned to the liturgy during Easter, having been denied us during the season of Lent and a re-newed vocabulary calls for a re-thinking of how to preach this. Christology moves, too, from a crucified outcast transformed into the risen Christ. The Easter setting focuses more on what to do now that the drinking of the bitter cup has passed through the wilderness of the crucifixion and the doorway of the empty tomb. A different set of questions are now in play. Christ is Risen. Hallelujah. So…the question in v.12 What can I offer the LORD for all he has done for me? Leads to acts of praise: Answer in v. 13: I will lift up the cup of salvation and praise the LORD’s name for saving me (Hallelujah. Christ is risen!), Answer in v. 14: I will keep my promises to the LORD in the presence of all his people (Hallelujah. Christ is Risen!), answer in v. 17: I will offer you a sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the LORD (Hallelujah. Christ is Risen). Proclaiming the text in this way is quite a bit different from seeing it as a Maundy Thursday text and offers the opportunity to preach an interesting view of the sanctified life in the middle of the church’s Easter celebration and to do so beginning with praise and thanksgiving for the opportunity. This is a Christology of holy empowerment, the opportunity to make an Easter transition as we preach, to move beyond the intensely introspective Lenten passages where we considered where it began with us and God and if we have strayed in our walk with Christ to the activity of a life vested with power to move (as only resurrected bodies can) and praise and keep our promises. This can, of course, be easily trivialized. However, if one looks for examples of this holy empowerment in things like the Ten Comma