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Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19

On this third Sunday of Easter, Psalm 116 urges us to reflect on how we express our love to and for God. How do we fully express and operate in love so expansive? This love and devotion that is not worried about minimizing its nature to answer individual requests for healing for our bodies. Nor too limited by our understanding that it cannot part insurmountable corporate barriers to deliver a people from oppressive institutions and activities. God is steadfast and unmovable in God’s love for us. This psalm reveals the depths of passion expressed by one, who understands that relationship with God is defined by “genuine mutual love[1].” This psalm demands that we give our own corporate but even more, individual testimonies of God’s love, while simultaneously committing our bodies and souls to full and unhindered connection with the Divine.

It is hard to write this commentary without acknowledging the massive pandemic, weighing heavy on the minds of every faith leader. Two weeks ago we rightfully mustered up the courage to preach to empty rooms, and offer hope to hearts emptied by the pain of this pandemic. We hoped this matter would be solved magically and mysteriously, like the pop-up timer on that turkey we cooked for our Easter meal. It did not, and it’s still with us. The information we received regarding the pandemic may be as unreliable as that same timer, in determining how much longer this new normal will take. It is not hard to understand how disciples who didn’t go to the tomb, nor encountered the angels or Jesus in the tomb, would be full of doubt and despair on the Emmaus Road, and not be able to see that Emmanuel was right there. This psalm, one of the Egyptian Hallel psalms,[2] places us in the midst of the real distress of the psalmist, but also in the intimate place of witnessing the outpouring of love the psalmist expresses to a God who does what is necessary to be present.

From its personal declarative opening, this psalm localizes us in a very real, physical, intimate space and expansive depth of God’s love. While verses 1-4 express deep devotion to God, the power of this testimony is that God moves as close to us as possible. God hears, or even more, listens to the voice and supplication (cries, deep soul longings) of the psalmist. God bends, or inclines an ear towards the psalmist. This wonderful imagery can be a great opportunity for the preacher to trouble our understanding of how we connect with God. Is it that God is differently abled, hard of hearing, or even as physically or emotionally deaf as some persons we have experienced in relationship, that God has to bend to hear us? Is God neglectful, too busy, too big, too high, too far that God like some people, leaves us to the evils and pains of life? Or is God a project manager with too many tasks and not enough time? Certainly one could step into the proverbial weeds of dealing with the historical and troubled understanding of “the God of the Old Testament” who only brings calamity and wants to prove so many points. As an Easter people, living by and through God’s grace, we understand the inclining ear. It is from a God that looks for opportunities to physically connect and spiritually transform us in a love that is greater, deeper and eternal. This love requires the poetic proclamation we see in verses 1-4, and as well the responsive action that is required when one is in a mutual relationship with God.

The psalmist asks in verse 12, “what shall I return…?” What follows is a listing of “I will[3]” statements, declarations from one who understands this greatness, depth, and eternal nature of God. One who is willing to perform and adapt to develop and maintain this foundational relationship. As a psalm used during the Passover meal, it recounts the corporate memory of a God that heard, delivered, and continually protected God’s people from slavery, all manner of plagues and a Pharaoh who couldn’t see the creative power of God. All of this is expressed in a very personal manner, “in the presence of all his people.”[4] What very personal, yet corporate declaration could you offer as a pastor? What personal, yet corporate declarations that admit our current vulnerabilities and lack of control during this pandemic, or any other calamity that will affect us in the future, can offer a real recognition of God’s power over these problems? We will see the end of this pandemic, that is for sure. Yet the way we equip, or discuss the journey of perfection, or rather, the way in which our churches develop individuals and corporate bodies to sustain lives of faith and holiness based in mutual love and relationship with God is critical.

In Pentecostal, Baptist, and Apostolic traditions (especially African American churches) there is/was the tradition of “moan singing[5].” The corporate and individual, call and response of guttural deep soul cries. This moan singing used scriptural texts and songs to express the depths of sorrow of African American communities, and the vast promise that God was near and would act; because that’s what God does.[6] This “moan singing” was thought to be too primitive and debase for other denominations, yet, there was the need to express soul pain. Gospel music became the perfect hybridization of the cries of souls to a blues and r&b beat[7]. The rawness of “moan singing,” or other ancient practices that allow us to revel in the humility of our humanity, while acknowledging the all-powerful and ever-present nature of God are necessary for us to get through this pandemic. Consider this as you prepare for this week, but also as you and your congregation develop your testimony of God’s power and love.


[1] 1 Peter 1:22 – Borrowing words from our Epistle lesson this week

[2] Psalms 113-118, utilized in the religious life and ceremonies of the people of Israel as praise (hallel means praise) songs/liturgy to celebrate the power of God, and express the resulting devotion the people, corporately and individually have with God because of their experience with this God.

[3] This is certainly a creative opening for a Christological comparison of the “I Will” Statements in Psalm 116 to the “I Am” statements of Jesus in the Johannine Gospel

[4] Psalm 116:18

[5] Examples of Moan singing of Psalm 116

[6] See, a discussion of Dr. James Noel’s book on African American religious experience

[7] Famous gospel version written by Richard Smallwood and sung famously by Whitney Houston –