Thursday, April 21, 2011

Psalm 116:12-19 - “Pointing to the Evening’s Events”

Maundy Thursday (Year A - Lutheran Service Book readings)
Thursday, April 21, 2011

Tonight’s sermon is based on the Psalm reading from tonight. You may want to have your bulletin open to that page as we contemplate Psalm 116 and meditate on how it points to tonight’s events, the events of Maundy Thursday.

When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

They left the Upper Room singing a hymn, and it’s possible to imagine them singing Psalm 116, because after all, Psalms 113-118 were the psalms used for the Passover celebration, the meal that the disciples and Jesus had just celebrated together. And Psalm 116 is a psalm, a song, a hymn that points to the evening’s events, so yes, it’s possible to imagine that psalm on the lips of the disciples and Jesus, on their lips as they go out into the night, go to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray.

The psalm says: How can I repay the Lord for all His goodness to Me? How can I give enough thanks to the Lord for all that He has given Me?

And our thoughts turns to the night’s meal: Our Lord Jesus Christ took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to His disciples, saying, “Take, eat, this is my body.”

He gave thanks. The meal is a thanksgiving meal, a thanksgiving for all that the Lord has given to us, a thanksgiving for saving the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, a thanksgiving for watching over His people all these generations, a thanksgiving for what He was now doing—bringing salvation to completion in Jesus Christ.

The psalm continues even as the meal continues: I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.

And after the supper, He took the cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.”

Jesus lifts up the cup of salvation, the cup of His blood, the cup of suffering, the cup that brings salvation to all people, the cup of His blood poured out for the forgiveness of sins, forgiveness offered to all who call on His Name, for all who believe in His Name.

And when they had finished the meal, when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives, to pray, to pray like Psalm 116:

I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all His people.

And Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Father, take this cup of suffering from Me, but not what I will, what I decide, but what You will, what You decide.”

Jesus went and prayed, went and showed His commitment to the Father’s plan, went and committed Himself to the vow He made to suffer and die for the people, the vow to save the world in the midst of Jerusalem, on the cross, in the sight of every people.

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.
Precious is the death of His Holy One.
Precious is the death of Jesus.

The hymn continues, the spirit of prayer continues:
O Lord, truly I am Your servant,
I am Your servant, the Son of Your maidservant.

Jesus in the Garden prays three times, committing Himself each time to the Father’s will, committing Himself as a servant—the son of the maidservant Mary, committing Himself as One who came to serve not to be served as He showed the disciples by washing their feet that night.

And the psalm shows His trust in the Father: You will free Me from My chains.

Jesus trusted that the Father would free Him from the chains of death, would free Him and raise Him to new life.

So Jesus is able to say: I will sacrifice a thank offering to You and call on the Name of the Lord.

Jesus would offer Himself as the sacrifice, offer His own body, His own life in sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. He would lay down His life to be sacrificed on the cross; on the cross He would call on the Name of the Lord, use His dying breath to call out for the Father.

And again the psalm says: I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all His people, in the courts of the house of the Lord, in your midst, O Jerusalem.

Jesus had been welcomed in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday with victory branches and shouts of “Hosanna!” Jesus had taught in the temple. Jesus had preached in the streets. And now Jesus would go to die in the midst of God’s holy city.

And with that, the hymn echoes in the night, a hymn that points to the events of the evening—points to the Lord’s Supper, points to the prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane, points to tomorrow’s event on the cross. Psalm 116 is a hymn that carries all of that, carries all of the weight of the evening’s events, the weight of the events that had already taken place, the events that would take place the next day, the events that would bring about the salvation of the whole world. The hymn echoes in the night, and Judas and the soldiers would be arriving soon. The hymn echoes in the night with the last line perhaps being what stays with the disciples.

The last line: “Praise the Lord.”

“Praise the Lord,” our English translations have, the last line of the hymn that we can imagine the disciples and Jesus singing, the last line is “Praise the Lord.”

But in Hebrew, in the original language of the psalm, the last line is the word we do not sing in Lent—at least by church tradition, we don’t say the word that may have echoed in the night on that Holy Thursday, the last line of Psalm 116 in Hebrew is (whispered) “Hallelujah.”

(whispered) “Hallelujah,” meaning “Praise the Lord.” The last words they may have sung would have been “hallelujah,” a word we can hardly bring ourselves to say during the season of Lent, during this season of contemplating the suffering and death of Jesus. To think that the disciples and Jesus went out into the night, went out towards that dark hour, went out with that word on their lips.

It hardly seems appropriate; that’s why the church doesn’t sing it during Lent. It hardly seems appropriate to PRAISE THE LORD in the face of the death of Jesus, in the face of the awful fact that our sin put Jesus on the cross, in the face of the suffering and death of our God, well, it hardly seems appropriate to PRAISE THE LORD.

And when we’re contemplating our sin, when we’re contemplating what brings us to this night, when we’re contemplating our need for Jesus to pour out His blood for us, when we’re contemplating just how bad things are between us and God, when we see really how awful it is that our God needed to die to pay for our sins, well, we can hardly bring ourselves to say that final line of the hymn.

Who knows what was going through the minds of the disciples that night, but I wonder if some of them sensed that “hallelujah” didn’t seem right, I wonder if some of them sensed that something tragic was happening, what with Jesus offering them His body and blood, talking about offering Himself as the sacrifice, I wonder if some of the disciples had trouble singing that final line, had trouble saying “hallelujah” that night.

I wonder if they struggled, I wonder if they struggled to say “Praise the Lord,” like we might struggle to say that tonight. As in the words of a modern day rock poet who says:

That’s why we cry, “Lord, we wander so long
And we worry so much
‘Til we can hardly cry, ‘Hallelujah’”

‘Til we can hardly cry, “Hallelujah,” ‘til we dare not say those words, ‘til we dare not say, “Praise the Lord,” we wander so long, we worry so much, we see our own sin, we are overcome by sadness for our waywardness, for the ways we wander away from God, we are overcome and we can hardly bring ourselves to say the last line of the hymn that they may have sung this night.

But is there a way in which we could say that word, that we could sing that line? Is there a way to look at tonight, to look at tomorrow, to look at what Jesus did and sing that last line? Oh, I don’t mean that tonight’s the night for jumping up and down and applauding and carrying on like it’s a great big party to watch our Savior go down for our crimes.

But tonight can be about praising the Lord. Tonight you can walk away from the Lord’s Supper with a smile on your face, a “hallelujah” on your lips, you can walk away from the Lord’s Supper tonight, go out into the night singing a hymn, go out with “hallelujah” echoing into the night, because tonight is about this most precious gift from Jesus—that He sacrificed Himself for us, that He lifted up the cup of salvation for us, that He fulfilled His vows to the Lord, that He promised to die for the people and that’s what He allowed to happen on the cross. Tonight isn’t just a somber reflection on our need for the Lord’s Supper; tonight is a celebration that we’ve been given this great gift of the Lord’s Supper. Tonight we can have those last words on our lips—“Praise the Lord.”

Oh, we will wander and we will worry ‘til we can hardly cry, “Hallelujah,” we will struggle to say that word—not just because of Lent, we will struggle to say that word because life often doesn’t seem like a “hallelujah,” life often doesn’t seem like the time for praising the Lord, because there are awful, tortuous things that happen to us, there are injuries and sicknesses and tragedies and deaths and defeats in life ‘til we can hardly cry, “Hallelujah.”

But tonight is a reminder that even on the night when He was betrayed, even on the night when He went out to be arrested and beaten and condemned to die, even that night Jesus sang “hallelujah” with the disciples, praised the Lord, praised the Father in heaven for what He was doing, what He was going to do through the cross, what He was doing to save the people of the whole world, save everyone from their sins. And if we can imagine that Jesus had a “hallelujah” on His lips on this night, well, then at least in whispered reverence, we can say the word, too.

Say it quietly with me: “Hallelujah.”

You may wander, you may worry so much, you may wander and worry ‘til you can hardly cry, “Hallelujah,” but tonight the Lord invites you to say it, invites you to eat His body and drink His blood, invites you to commune with Him, invites you into fellowship with Him, invites you to eat of the sacrifice of His Son, invites you to have forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Tonight, I believe, that Jesus is inviting you to say that last line of Psalm 116. So say it again quietly with me: “Hallelujah.”

You may wander, you may worry so much, you may be perplexed by a whole host of things going on in your life, you may be struck by the reality of your own sin and your separation from God, but God invites you tonight to see that He has prepared Jesus as a sacrifice on your behalf, prepared Jesus to step into your place, prepared Jesus to be your Savior, so you’re invited tonight to say the last line that may have echoed into the night as the disciples and Jesus finished singing that hymn. Say it again quietly with me: “Hallelujah.” One more time: “Hallelujah.”