Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19
Libby Tedder Hugus
When God’s people ponder what love looks like, we needn’t look farther than the intimate dinner shared between Jesus and his disciples the night of his betrayal to death, death on a cross. Jesus modeled explicitly that night in worship and service, what love looks like, even understanding full well the likely hood of betrayal. If we will pay attention, we can hear the words of Jesus to us also: “just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” Jesus shared the Passover meal that fateful night with his friends, a celebration of God’s deliverance of a people bound in slavery and oppression. That night, Jesus founded a new celebration rooted in the history of the old, of God’s deliverance of all people from the debt we owe to selfishness, greed, and independence.
Psalm 116 is collected among the Hallel Psalms (113-116), intended to be read during Jewish festivals, and especially the last night of Passover. There is a strong likelihood that Jesus prayed this Psalm that final night with this friends. It was a shared meal, a night that initiated Jesus’ demonstration of the lengths to which love will go. The words of this Psalm likely sustained Jesus during his final hours on earth. They were words about a God who hears, listens and delivers.
Psalms are intimate prayers that we are able to read presently which were first prayed, penned, preserved by our ancient brothers and sisters millennia ago. They are collected now in scripture for our own worship of the same God of those ancient psalmists. They are records of raw emotion, first-hand experiences of relating to God through discovery and response to God’s deep love. Psalm 116 is a celebration that God hears, God listens, God delivers. This is miraculous beyond comprehension!
The composer of Psalm 116 has been delivered, and her only response is grateful, loving worship. God has graciously, miraculously heard the cries of the desperate and answered. The Psalmist loves God because of the power and miracle of deliverance. The question on which the psalm hinges is verse twelve: what can she give in response? Its an absurd question, if you spend any time considering it: repay God? Repay God for deliverance from destruction? How? Its impossible!
What is sufficient payback for sacrifice beyond price? What is the appropriate response to being saved from self, misery, desolation and condemnation? These are appropriate questions for this chapter in the life and worship of the Church: Holy Week. The three days between Maundy Thursday and Easter Sunday, still with Good Friday, Holy Saturday to traverse. The days we look long and hard at the sacrificial demonstration of God’s love in Jesus, and contemplate our own responses.
God gets it: God knows our limitations and frailties. God does not expect repayment, and knows it is entirely impossible to find a way to do so adequately. God’s deliverance isn’t a matter of pay-back and debt reconciliation, because it is impossible when the deliverance God offers is resurrection from crucifixion, beauty from ashes, life from death.
Remember: God hears, listens, delivers. And so the Psalmist does all she knows do: she worships and serves. She promises that gratitude will be the ocean in which she swims for the rest of her life. God’s deliverance isn’t a matter of payback, but rather an invitation to live sacrificially. Sacrificial worship turns naturally to service. The response of the Psalmist is “I love the Lord” not “I owe the Lord big time.” The Psalmist will serve in every capacity she can to “return to the Lord all his bounty to me” (verse twelve).
Worship and service are the only appropriate responses. The last night of Jesus’ freedom on earth, before he was bound and castigated for setting the ultimate example of love. Before his death became our ultimate deliverance, Jesus worshiped and served. He worshipped with his closest friends by sharing a meal with them, and reinterpreting for them the meaning of the Passover. Opening their eyes to the new-covenant of love that God was initiating, he knelt and washed their dirty feet, he broke bread and raised a glass of wine and reminded them of the new commandment, because “by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
He served by striping down to his labor-appropriate attire and physically kneeling before his friends, taking their crusted, weathered feet in his hands and washing them. When Peter protested, Jesus rebutted: this is what love looks like. Your new command is this: love one another as I have loved you.
We are to take loving one another as seriously as being loved. This is the root and nature of Psalm 116. There should be very little separation between our worship and our service. Lift up the cup, call on God’s name, fulfill our vows, worship and serve. Serve and worship. It was how the Psalmist responded, it was how Jesus responded, it is how we must respond.
It was God who knelt that night of Jesus’ final Passover on earth: who got down on boney knees and took the form of a servant and worshipped by giving away gratitude. God hears, listens, delivers. In kneeling and washing those dirty feet and looking those disciples in the eye – Jesus was reminding them of their own deliverance. Deliverance from the debt selfishness and into the debt of gratitude. We too are invited to kneel down as servants. Like the Psalmist, we too can lift up the cup of salvation, call on the name of the Lord, keep our vows of worship, never stop serving. Will you chose to swim in the ocean of gratitude this Maundy Thursday?
Pastor, The Table, Casper, WY
Libby Tedder Hugus
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