Today, we have sung, as one voice – which is what the Greek word behind the English, “symphony,” means – as we called out to all earth to “Shout for joy!”
The word alleluia is a word that we bring back in full force during the Easter season. Our Psalm today also begins in that way too. Since it’s Hebrew, it’s “hallelujah,” rather than the Greek alleluia, but you get the idea. However, despite the word hallelujah, being the most distinct word of the Easter season, sometimes it is easy just to say it and not think about what it means. It’s important to remember that hallelujah means “praise Yahweh.” Translating it all into English we get, “Praise the LORD.” But then we must ask, “What does praise mean?”
Once again, the Church calendar has brought us to hear annual readings that many Christians yearn for when death is near, when death has occurred, and at other times when the dark evil in this fallen world, in “the valley of death-shadow,” presses in upon them. This is the week each year that we, no matter what we may be experiencing at the time, are called to hear of Jesus as the One Who is more than simply good. We hear that He is our Noble and Beautiful Shepherd Whose beautiful words continue to be proclaimed to lead us through the darkness of evil in this sin-darkened creation.
Today’s text is the Gospel reading which is full of peace, forgiveness, and faith flowing from our Risen Savior. In today’s Gospel, there are three times that Jesus says the phrase, “Peace be with you.” If Jesus said something once, we need to listen to it. If Jesus says something twice, like, “Amen, Amen,” we really need to listen. And, if Jesus says something three times, one better pay (1) very (2) very (3) very close attention.
Today, a Gospel section of the 118th Psalm, that is, a “Good News,” part of it, was chanted before and after the congregation sang, “Good Christian Friends, Rejoice and Sing.” Those Psalm verses were placed where they were in order to emphasize the life anyone may have in God. They also were declared to reinforce the eternal reality that a blessed resurrection from the dead is coming to all who remain, in their mortal lives until their ends, attached to Jesus through the means He chose.
The tomb is empty. Jesus is alive. This is all good news. However, those first at the empty tomb needed time to understand what it meant. The same is true for many today. What does it all mean that the tomb is empty and Jesus is alive? Christians today, unlike the original witnesses, all intuitively know that Easter is good news.
The 118th Psalm is the Church’s song that reminds the faithful in every generation that the central reason that frees us to give praise to the Lord is because He has heard His people’s pleas to, “Save Now!” He has given us everlasting success over all our enemies in the Messiah.
In many church bodies today (maybe even in the LCMS sometimes) you can hear of a “nicer” Jesus. Especially in other church bodies, you can pay to hear from whatever kind of nice, safe, politically correct Jesus you may want. However, a “nicer” or “safer” Jesus is not nice or safe because it’s not the real Jesus! The real Jesus stands up in a crowd of people who don’t believe in Him and says, “You are of your father the devil.”
God has, in His grace for us, protected us—by continuing to drive back from us the evil foe and his forces—to enable us to assemble again in person around His beautiful gifts of Word and Sacraments on another mid-Lent Sunday of rejoicing. Today’s color, Rose (or, pink, as some call it) heralds a week that centers us on the ability we have to rejoice in Christ’s miracle of continuing to provide the Bread of Life to those who are to dwell in the eternal city of God.
This day, through its readings, is given that you might continue to have power to say, “The God ‘I see’ is the God of Creation and Salvation.” To those who have been contemplating, as is Lent’s practice, their sins and their need for the Savior from them, the Word today serves to remind them of God’s enduring, merciful, sacrificial, steadfast, unconditional love. All those descriptors that were just connected to the proclamation of God’s love can be used to translate the Hebrew language that formed today’s Psalm antiphon and this congregation’s response.