Opting for Love
by Pastor Seth
June 21, 2023
It’s no wonder Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. referred to Psalm 118 as, “my own beloved Psalm.” Bringing to a close a collection known as the Hallel Psalms (Hallel meaning “praise” in Hebrew), Psalm 118 concludes a series of hymns recounting and celebrating the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt and freedom from slavery. Considered an anthology of thanksgiving, this passage pulls from other Psalms and hymns of the Hebrew Scriptures all pointing to a praiseworthy God who disrupts oppression and liberates those in the clutches of bondage.
It is an important scripture for Judaism, read aloud during Passover to remember God’s saving action in the world. It is an important scripture for Christianity, referenced in all of the Gospels and in many epistles as a key for early Christians to understand the life and teachings of Jesus. And it is an important scripture for Dr. King, who is said to have had an excerpt of this Psalm pasted on his wall. This hymn has echoed through the centuries as a battlecry of resiliency and liberation, serving as inspiration for Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement as well as for all who have ever felt the weight of oppression’s downward force.
Opening with thanksgiving, Psalm 118 is hopeful and triumphant — a first person account of victory over one’s enemies and fearlessness in the face of attack all thanks to a responsive God whose steadfast love endures forever. And the psalmist makes it clear that this last part is paramount. The phrase, “God’s steadfast love endures forever,” is used to open the Psalm and to conclude the Psalm in verse 29 and is repeated four times in the first four verses alone. There must be something to that.
On June 19, we celebrated Juneteenth — a day commemorating when the enslaved Americans of the last Confederate territory received news that they were free well over two years after the Emancipation Proclamation. In light of Juneteenth and the legacy of Black liberationists, I invite us to consider what the psalmist means by God’s steadfast love endures forever and what love has to do with liberation.
What does God’s enduring love have to do with liberation?