It’s the 24th day of the month, and that means Psalm 118 is on the docket for the rounds of daily prayer today. With Eastertide well in progress this psalm may give you a bit of a flashback, as Psalm 118 plays prominent roles in Holy Week and Easter.
14 The Lord is my strength and my song, * and has become my salvation.
15 The voice of joy and deliverance is in the dwellings of the righteous; * the right hand of the Lord brings mighty things to pass.
16 The right hand of the Lord is exalted; * the right hand of the Lord brings mighty things to pass.
17 I shall not die, but live, * and declare the works of the Lord.
18 The Lord has chastened and corrected me, * but he has not given me over to death.
19 Open unto me the gates of righteousness, * that I may go into them, and give thanks unto the Lord.
20 This is the gate of the Lord; * the righteous shall enter into it.
21 I will thank you, for you have heard me, * and have become my salvation.
22 The same stone which the builders refused * has become the chief cornerstone.
23 This is the Lord’s doing, * and it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 This is the day that the Lord has made; * we will rejoice and be glad in it.
25 Help me now, O Lord; * O Lord, send us now prosperity.
26 Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord; * we bless you from the house of the Lord.
27 God is the Lord, who has shown us light; * bind the sacrifice with cords, even to the horns of the altar.
28 You are my God, and I will thank you; * you are my God, and I will exalt you.
29 O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is gracious; * his mercy endures for ever.
The verses in blue are the parts of this Psalm appointed for Easter Day. The verses in red are the parts appointed for Palm Sunday. The verses in purple are appointed for both. (Easter Saturday also repeats much of this part of the psalm too.)
The Palm Sunday (Liturgy of the Palms) portion, verses 19-29, are pretty explicit in their attribution to Palm Sunday. “Open to me the gates” invokes the entrance of Christ into Jerusalem, Jesus is “the righteous” who “shall enter” through “the gate of the Lord.” The crowd’s cry of “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” is found here, as is the prophetic line “bind the sacrifice with cords, even to the horns of the altar”, which is what Palm Sunday goes on to observe – the crucifixion of Jesus.
Easter Day captures the more ‘positive’ verses of this psalm. That is the day we celebrate that the Lord “has become my salvation,” that Jesus “shall not die, but live.” Verses 22-24, which are shared on both days, proclaim a truth Jesus attributed to himself: I am the “stone which the builders refused” (Matthew 21:42, Mark 12:10, Luke 20:17), which St. Peter remembered well in his life thereafter (Acts 4:11, 1 Peter 2:7). That, above all others, is “the day that the Lord has made” in which we are to “rejoice and be glad in it.”
Of course, when we’re praying this Psalm in its entirety on its own, outside the context of Palm Sunday or Easter Day, we need not let those liturgical usages of the psalm dictate the fullness of its interpretation. But its allusions to the death and resurrection of Christ are inescapable, and the Christian must always see and acknowledge the echoes both of Calvary and the empty tomb sounding back through centuries into the words of this psalm, rebounding again to us as we pray, chant, and sing these words.