Excerpted from the NC Council of Churches Lenten Guide, “Love One Another: Reflections on Race, Power, and Privilege”
Palm Sunday —Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever! Let Israel say, “His steadfast love endures forever.” Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord. This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it. I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation. The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Save us, we beseech you, O Lord! O Lord, we beseech you, give us success! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. We bless you from the house of the Lord. The Lord is God, and he has given us light. Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar. You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God, I will extol you. O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.
This is, of course, Palm Sunday, and there is plenty in the Lectionary specific to that. But I chose this passage. Huh.
Palm Sunday is a big deal to those of us who consider ourselves followers of Christ. By choosing to write about this Psalm, I am not ignoring the significance of the fronds or the colt or the adoring crowds. Nor am I ignoring what comes over the course of the next week when things will go horribly awry in the way that they must. Without the horror of the torture and execution, without the miracle of resurrection, Jesus goes down in history as just another prophet.
What inspired me to write about this Psalm is its joyful, optimistic tone even as we approach one of the darkest weeks in the Christian church’s year. Which, in 2016, happens to come in what is already a plenty dark calendar year. Why in the world are we so angry? Or perhaps better asked, why is the world so angry? Perhaps we need to talk about some steadfast love.
When we talk about race, power, and privilege, there is so much of the conversation is grim – past, present, and inevitably future. Rights that appeared to be won are being stripped away. Language in the public square has taken a vicious, unimaginable turn. Even some of those entrusted to protect and serve seem to have placed a qualifier on that pledge.
And yet we are promised twice, right off that bat, that God’s “steadfast love endures forever.” No qualifiers. No language separates those who will be loved from those who won’t.
Further down, there is promise to those who have been minimized or told they were unworthy.
“The stone that the builders have rejected has become the chief cornerstone.”
So the people who should have seen the value and importance of who was before them failed in that basic task, but that didn’t mean that all was lost. Can you imagine the builders’ faces when they realize it? Everything is supported by that stone, the individual, the very group, that they deemed unworthy. But don’t be distressed because the Lord is doing marvelous things.
This Psalm, so full of promise, should not be a distraction from what comes next in the story of our Lord. Powerful people are going to grab him, torture him, and publicly execute him, because they are afraid of him. They have been since he was born. Remember Herod?
In today’s world, brown children are less valued and their futures sacrificed with disturbing regularity. They are poisoned in Flint, gunned down in Chicago, inhibited from voting – their surest path to leadership that represents them – in North Carolina. All by powerful people.
It is heartbreaking and infuriating, but rather than dwelling there, let us remember that we are a resurrection people, that God’s love is steadfast, that the Lord has made this day for us all. That doesn’t mean we sit and wait for God to rescue us from this bitter ad divided time. It does mean that we keep the faith, that we continue the good and important work of opening gates, and we optimize the opportunities for those cornerstones to serve the crucial role they are meant to have in the foundation of our society.
Prayer: Remind us in these troubling times of your steadfast love, our God and our protector. Help us to ensure that the gates are opened and remain open for all. Amen.