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Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29

Psalm 118 is a culminating psalm rather appropriate for this time of the liturgical season, but also for the celebratory moment many of our congregations may feel after spending so much time separated from one another, quarantined because of the pandemic. Regardless of whether your church has returned to in-person worship, or is using Palm Sunday as a kick-off for return, this moment allows for a climax of celebration (individually and corporately) as churches celebrate the work and walk of our Savior through Jerusalem. This psalm, full of beloved verses, was used by the gospel writers to support and legitimate Jesus’s identity, his divinity. Yet, it also is a part of tradition where it’s recitation and exhortation supported the faith formation and identity of a community. Psalm 118 in its entirety, and the selected verses for the lectionary, support the further exploration of a congregation to consider their invitation to participate with God, not just as spectators, but as active recipients of God’s grace and mercy, and as collaborators with this same God, who asks us to share and act in the celebration because of what we have received.

Psalm 118 is a part of the Egyptian Hallel. A group of psalms (Psalm 113-118) used in the temple and now synagogues in connection with the Passover Seder, and part of the liturgical expression for all major festivals and holidays. Some sources note, the Hallel was used by the Levites as they slaughtered the paschal lambs on Passover eve. The word “Hallel” meaning “Praise Yahweh,” is made clear by the exclamations offered in these psalms, and in particular, Psalm 118. In its opening verses, the individual is invited to participate in a call and response of praise. It is worth noting that though excluded from the lectionary, verses 3-4 continue emphasizing the praise of this God, as Israel (the whole congregation) house of Aaron (the clergy/Levites), and those who fear the Lord (supposedly anyone and everyone else, but truly the whole congregation/Israel) all in concert to praise God for God’s goodness and steadfast love, that endures forever. Truly, the first two verses can be the basis of a deep and profound sermon on the nature of praise. Considering the image of a major festival that requires this kind of celebration, the kind of celebration where all are together and unified in one particular action for at least one moment. The power of witnessing collaboration in the planning for such a celebration, but even more, the desire of the group to connect and express praise because of triumph over major obstacles, over crisis, over death. What a powerful thought, what a powerful idea for a sermon.

Nevertheless, the praise does not end with these opening verses. With verses 3-18 excluded, we move to the writer’s desire to enter the temple. The temple is not just the place for tradition, or monotonous ritual, where the worshippers are fully informed and accountable to the magnitude of being present in this sacred space. The sacred space designed by God, and now inhabited by God’s pe