Praising God in Strange Times

Interesting that Jesus chose this celebration, this remembrance, as the setting for his final act of opening the way for all of us to be in relationship with God.

Both Matthew and Mark, in their gospel stories, report that after Jesus and the 12 had celebrated the Passover meal that night in the upper room, they sang a hymn before leaving for the Mount of Olives (Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26). The NRSV has it in Matthew that they sang THE hymn.

Wait, what? What hymn? Are we supposed to know which hymn is THE hymn?

Indeed, the Jews celebrating Passover would have known which hymn, as would the first century Christians who continued to use the Hebrew scriptures, considering themselves Jews in every sense who had accepted Jesus as the foretold Messiah.

The aforementioned hymn would have been the Hallel, including Psalm 116 which is appointed for Maundy Thursday in our lectionary. Six psalms were part of the Hallel – psalms 113 to 118 – that the Jews were commanded to sing on the night of the Passover celebration. They were sung not all at once but at certain points throughout the meal. Hallel means “praise,” which was what faithful Jews did on this night when they remembered that God had saved them from the angel of death when he rescued them from slavery in Egypt (see our Old Testament reading for today.) 

Interesting that Jesus chose this celebration, this remembrance, as the setting for his final act of opening the way for all of us to be in relationship with God.

A night of praise and thanksgiving is to be our response to God’s love for us.

“It is too small a thing,” Isaiah had said of the chosen servant, “that you should raise up the tribes of Jacob to restore the survivors of Israel;
I will give you as a light to the nations,
    that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth”
(49:6).

Psalm 116 calls us to respond. We too are obliged to remember, to sing, to praise God, and to offer ourselves in thanksgiving. 

On this strange Maundy Thursday, when we cannot gather as community to humbly wash the feet of our neighbor, when we cannot glorify God together for the sacrifice of the bread and the cup, we can recite Psalm 116. Perhaps gathered around the table with our family, we can tell each other for what we are grateful and how we will praise God with our lives in response. 

Then we can sing our favorite hymn. The Doxology is fitting.

Psalm 116
1 I love the Lord, because he has heard
    my voice and my supplications.
2 Because he inclined his ear to me,
    therefore I will call on him as long as I live.
3 The snares of death encompassed me;
    the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;
    I suffered distress and anguish.
4 Then I called on the name of the Lord:
    “O Lord, I pray, save my life!”

Pause here to recall the ways in which God has rescued you.

5 Gracious is the Lord, and righteous;
    our God is merciful.
6 The Lord protects the simple;
    when I was brought low, he saved me.
7 Return, O my soul, to your rest,
    for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.
8 For you have delivered my soul from death,
    my eyes from tears,
    my feet from stumbling.
9 I walk before the Lord
    in the land of the living.
10 I kept my faith, even when I said,
    “I am greatly afflicted”;
11 I said in my consternation,
    “Everyone is a liar.”

Pause to recall the ways in which you keep your faith in hard times.

12 What shall I return to the Lord
    for all his bounty to me?
13 I will lift up the cup of salvation
    and call on the name of the Lord,
14 I will pay my vows to the Lord
    in the presence of all his people.
15 Precious in the sight of the Lord
    is the death of his faithful ones.

Pause to commit to at least one way you will honor and thank God for all God has done for you.

16 O Lord, I am your servant;
    I am your servant, the child of your serving girl.
    You have loosed my bonds.
17 I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice
    and call on the name of the Lord.
18 I will pay my vows to the Lord
    in the presence of all his people,
19 in the courts of the house of the Lord,
    in your midst, O Jerusalem.
Praise the Lord!

How will you praise God in thanksgiving?

Listen to the Doxology on UTube
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PQxZ3hPbBWg

Find all of the lectionary readings for Maundy Thursday here.

Marjorie George serves the Diocese of West Texas as a consultant in Adult Christian Formation. Reach her at marjorie.george@dwtx.org.  Or leave a reply below.

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