We Have Already Been Saved
Psalms for March 2016
By Denise Simeone
Thanksgiving is not usually the first thing we think of when we reflect on Lent, yet the verses from Psalm 34 on the Fourth Sunday of Lent (March 6) are clearly that. The vow of thanksgiving and praise in verse 2, “I will bless the Lord at all times,” launches us into a refrain of invitation to others: “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord” (v. 9). The psalmist knows deliverance; the Lord has already saved. We who sing this psalm often forget that is the case. Salvation has already been given. Jesus died and rose and by his life showed us how to give the same witness to the reign of God. Paul’s letter from 2 Corinthians reminds us that we are now the ambassadors. God appeals to the world through our witness.
The first reading from Joshua recalls the time the Israelites were fed manna from God. Luke’s Gospel begins with the tax collectors and sinners drawing close to Jesus to listen in the face of complaints from some of the religious rulers. The story he told (perhaps better called the parable to the prodigal father) must have scandalized them all. But can we imagine the glimmer of hope and new life this story might have raised in those who felt marginalized by their religion?
This unimaginable possibility of hope pervades all the readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent (March 13). Isaiah reminds the Israelites of the defeat of the powerful Egyptian army, yet he cautions: “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new!” (43:18-19). Paul reminds the Philippians, “Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead” (3:13), remember to pursue the goal of living in and witnessing to the resurrected life of Christ. In the familiar story of the woman caught in adultery who is left by her accusers to stand alone, Jesus issues her an invitation forward: “Go and from now on do not sin any more” (John 8:11).
We hear all of Psalm 126 this Sunday, and it too characterizes the joy of new life we hear in the readings. The people have returned to their land after long exile. Remember how good your own bed feels after you return from a long trip? Imagine that feeling a hundredfold for people who have been refugees far from their own country and are finally able to return home. Laughter bubbles forth. Songs erupt. Work still needs to be done, and the land will need to be cultivated, but the people sing, “The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy” (v. 3). Can we sing these words as we recognize that we, too, are sent forward already saved?
“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Psalm 22:2), sung in all three cycles on Palm Sunday (March 20), conveys the despair that must have accompanied the crucifixion for the disciples. Luke does not put this psalm on Jesus’s lips as both Mark and Matthew do, but it is familiar. Enemies seemed to surround the disciples just as they surrounded Jesus. And the disciples not only abandoned Jesus, but did not even appear to trust each other.
But from somewhere, the rest of the psalm bursts forth: The Lord does not stay far off; he rescues and delivers. The words of Isaiah, too, echo the idea that disgrace and shame are not the final answer. The early church community recognized in the words of this psalm the terrible suffering of the crucifixion. Yet they came to understand that Jesus took all the suffering unto himself. The acknowledgement begins to dawn: Salvation has already been won. Life has conquered death. Their response was to trust that God continues to act this way and confess, as Paul does in Philippians, that Jesus Christ emptied himself in obedience, even unto death.
Easter Sunday (March 27) begins with the reading from Acts describing the witness of Peter in the temple. He tells the crowds the disciples have been commissioned (sent on mission) to preach, testify to God’s reign, bear witness and forgive. Like Jesus, they are to teach, heal and continue this mission. They were prepared for this, and now it is their call. Their preaching, which we hear throughout the Easter season, reminds us this is the result of faith: Act!
Psalm 118 is a thanksgiving litany sung as the people walk in procession to the temple. The scene of this psalm is a far cry from the despair and shame of the crucifixion and recalls the people’s confidence in their God and their rescue from death. The shadow of rejection and death is near but no longer has a hold. The resurrection has shattered death, and new life has sprung forth. “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad” (v. 24). We add our “Alleluia!”
Denise Simeone is a writer and a consultant skilled at group facilitation, long-range planning and mission development. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article appears in the March 2016 issue of Celebration.