Old Testament Lectionary

For those who want a change from the Gospel

Palm Sunday – Psalm 118

The NT writers saw many OT passages, including the Psalms, as being fulfilled by Jesus in his earthly ministry. Ps 118 has long been associated with Palm Sunday, and it is not difficult to see why. The Psalm is a complex one, and our lectionary fillets out the middle section, which seems less easy to apply to Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. But what was the Psalm about originally? Was it merely a prophecy about something which was to happen centuries later? What would the original users of this Psalm have made of it?

Like Psalms 15 and 24 it looks very much like an entrance liturgy, rather like an introit in churches today, and may have been used at the gates of the city by pilgrims coming for one of the festivals, probably the Feat of Tabernacles. Like Psalm 24 it is a kind of antiphonal ‘Who goes there? Friend or foe?’ kind of dialogue at the city gates. This is an important question, because the ‘gates of righteousness’ of verse 19, or, more correctly, ‘the gates of the righteous’ are there to allow only those who are righteous to come in, and to keep out anyone else. The congregation assert that they are allowed in, because God has been good enough to save them and therefore to declare them righteous. They are stones which have been rejected, but are now seen to be important enough to be part of the building of God’s people, all because of the grace of God. God has acted this very day, not at some remote point in history, and so it is a day of rejoicing. So, as God’s people, let’s go! Join in the procession, and come to worship the God who has saved us and declared us righteous.

This is an interesting twist on the Psalm which is so often read as being about Jesus. Yes, he was rejected but then exalted, and yes, he did ride into the city in a triumphal procession, but that is NT spin, not OT exegesis. So today let’s make the bold step of reappropriating the Psalm for ourselves, because it is about us, not about Jesus. We are those who this world so often counts as nothing, labelling us as ‘religious nuts’, ‘hypocrites’, ‘losers’ and several other less than flattering epithets which are often flung at Christians. But God has welcomed us! God has forgiven us, set our feet on a rock, turned our lives around, and invited us to join in the procession of worship.

Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s Superstar Jesus gets this nuance completely:

Sing me your songs,
But not for me alone.
Sing out for yourselves,
For you are blessed.
There is not one of you
Who cannot win the kingdom.
The slow, the suffering,
The quick, the dead.

In this difficult period of isolation, fear and anxiety, let’s sing out for ourselves this Palm Sunday, for we are indeed blessed, and privileged beyond all measure.

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