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Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29

“Save us, O Lord!”  Palm Sunday During Coronavirus

Because Psalm 118 is quoted so often in the New Testament, we can be forgiven for overlooking its meaning and importance for the original audience. It’s a processional hymn that recounts the saving acts of God in the history of God’s people, Israel. As the people approach the courts and the altar of the temple, the anthem rings out, praising God for his steadfast love. “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever.”

Steadfast love. Chesed. It’s one of those Hebrew words that defies easy translation. Like shalom or shabbat, it’s a word that signifies a whole world of meaning connected to God’s covenant love for his people. As you review various translations of Psalm 118, you see chesed rendered as mercy, faithful love, steadfast love, lovingkindness and loyal love, to name a few. It’s a word that expresses the bond between God and the people of his affection. The worshipers are so thankful for God’s chesed, they repeat the phrase over and over again: “His steadfast love endures forever!” (For those who think contemporary Christian worship songs are excessively repetitive, we should acknowledge that some expressions of praise are worthy of repetition. Psalm 118 is a prime example.)

The image of the cornerstone from v. 22 is a powerful picture in the imagination of the Hebrew people. The stone that was, at first, deemed unworthy to include in the structure, but then becomes the most important foundation stone, is a vivid narrative account of God’s chesed. It can be applied to the nation of Israel—exiled and enslaved by a pagan empire, but then rescued and restored to the land God had gifted them. It can also be seen as a description of King David, who was least among his brothers and was treated like an enemy of the kingdom during the reign of Saul. Yet, David was exalted to become Israel’s beloved king. Then, the imagery receives its most profound application when Jesus himself appropriates it to describe what the Father is doing through the incarnate Son’s saving mission in the world. Though hated and rejected by the religious establishment, Jesus would become the c