Resurrection of Our Lord, Year A

Resurrection of Our Lord, Year A

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

Sermon by Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson


Today we celebrate Christ’s resurrection and ours. On this “DAY of days,” the appointed biblical texts shed light on a variety of themes in relation to the resurrection—since the resurrection is a mysterious, multidimensional reality. Today, I invite you to explore with me the themes of: freedom and deliverance, and new, abundant life in the here-and-now present, which the resurrection gives us, which, in turn, is an inkling, a foretaste of the future God has in store for us.


First then, the resurrection is the primary event of freedom and deliverance. If we are to understand the resurrection in this way, it is necessary for us to consider the history behind Psalm 118. This psalm is one of the “Egyptian Hallel Psalms,” i.e., Psalms 113-118. They are named “hallel,” which, translated from the Hebrew means, “to praise, to glorify.” This Hebrew word is the root from which we get our English words Hallelujah and alleluia. For ancient Israel and for us, to praise, to glorify God is an act of worship; an act in which we make known to our God the depths of our heartfelt gratitude, love and joy. To praise and glorify God means to place our highest regard and value in God above all. It involves confessing our ultimate loyalty to God and making known that loyalty publicly in the presence of others as a community act. It is related to “defining events,” “ultimate events” in our lives, which shape and influence us profoundly because God has acted in those events to free and deliver us.


For the ancient Israelites, as well as for devout Jews today, the defining, ultimate event that Psalm 118 refers to is the Exodus event. God acted mightily to free, to save, to deliver Israel from Egyptian slavery. So important was this event in the history of Israel, that the festival of the Passover is to be observed every year by the faithful for all time. To taste and experience freedom after oppressive, Egyptian slavery is a universal experience for Israel, and all other peoples, for all time. One biblical scholar, Professor Jose Severino Croatto, explains it like this:


The entire Exodus experience made a deep impression on the being of Israel as a very profound experience. Indeed it was the most decisive event in its history; in it Israel grasped a liberating sense of God and an essential value in its own vocation, namely, freedom. This explains why the fundamental consciousness of Israel is a consciousness of freedom—at the communal level of the Covenant, or as a people, and at the level of the person. After maturing through prolonged reflection, being collected in the central tradition, and subsequently expressed in the written Word, this experience is elevated to the category of a message for all humankind. 1


So it was and is that Israel expresses their praise, joy and love to God in the liturgy of the Passover by reciting Psalm 118. It is as if all Israel of every century were present collectively in that act of worship right after God had freed and delivered them from Egyptian slavery, right now, today. So grateful is Israel to God after being freed and delivered that they confess the reality of their present day situation: “I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the LORD.” They have just been freed from Pharaoh’s death-dealing slavery; now they are delivered into a fresh new present, one full of hope and promise because it is a present filled with God’s own Presence. God has acted definitively on their behalf to move them from death, into life. For Israel on this “DAY of days,” they are living their history in all of its richness and fullness; they are truly alive; alive in a completely conscious, joyous, abundant, energetic, inspired way. As they celebrate Passover, they sing with all of their heart and soul: “This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”


As time goes on, and other peoples learn of Israel’s history and the Exodus event; this event becomes “the perfect model,” after which all humankind mirrors whenever the oppressed have been freed and delivered from their oppressors. Whether it is the blacks of the United States, and South Africa, or those oppressed in Afghanistan by the Taliban, or the cruel child slavery of several poor Asian nations—whatever the situation might be, humankind still hopes and longs for God to act to free and deliver all who continue to suffer from cruel slavery today.


As Christians reading Psalm 118 on Easter day, we relate these words to our defining, ultimate event, Christ’s resurrection. Therefore, we see the words as referring to resurrection—both Christ’s and ours. It is with joy, hope, love and gratitude; it is in making public confession of our faith, that we say, with Israel and the psalmist: “I shall not die, but I shall live and recount the deeds of the LORD.” These words describe for us our “Day of days,” when God acted on our behalf and on behalf of all humankind by raising Jesus from the dead. Where there was once only doom and gloom, now there is hope and joy. Where there was once only the grave and death, now there is resurrection and new life. The resurrection, thanks to God, brings us a new freedom and deliverance. We are now free from sin, death and the powers of evil. We are delivered into and freed to live a life of love, hope, joy, abundance and so much more, thanks to the promise that we too share in a resurrection like Christ’s.


This deliverance and freedom won for us through Christ’s resurrection is born out over and over again in our daily experiences. We are given an inkling of it a foretaste of it whenever we: exercise our freedom to gather and worship God without being coerced or persecuted. The present-day reality of the resurrection comes to us as we: with God’s help, are able to overcome addictions or recover our health after an illness and major surgery or are reconciled with an alienated family member, friend, or neighbour. The new found freedom and deliverance of God through Christ’s resurrection for us lifts us out of whatever oppresses us, weighs us down, causes sorrow and depression so that we too can sing with Israel and the psalmist: “This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” God has acted mightily in raising Christ from the dead, and yes folks, today God does the same for us in so many ways, if we but have the eyes of faith to see!


What God has done for us through Christ’s resurrection reminds me of a television program that I saw several years ago, called “In the Fall.” In this story, a former miner tells of the fact that in earlier days, how the mining companies put horses down in the mines and left them there; until they became blind and sick from living in the dark, and being exposed to the coal dust.


The former miner in the story became attached to a particular horse underground, because they worked together in the dark mine. So when the miner finally left the mine, he bought that horse from the mining company, so that the two of them could be free from the mining prison and live in the freedom—delivered from the dark mine into the new light above ground; where they continued to work together and have a sense of loyalty from the experience they had shared together.


In raising Jesus from the dead, God did the same for us—freeing us from death, sin and evil and delivering us into the light of day, giving us abundant life, forgiveness and love now, and hope for the future. Hope that allows us to celebrate life joyfully; knowing and trusting that our future is secure in the hands of our God, through raising Jesus from the dead—for as Paul says: “If we share in a death like his, surely we will share in a resurrection like his.”    


1 Cited from: Jose Severino Croatto, Exodus: A Hermeneutics Of Freedom (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1981), pp. 28-29.


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