Sermon for Easter Day Yr B

Easter Sunday Yr B, 4/04/2021

Ps 118:1-2, 14-24

Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

“God’s reversals: From rejected stone to chief cornerstone”

According to my NRSV Lutheran Study Bible (p. 849), Psalm 118 is identified as a liturgical psalm. As a Christian reading this psalm, I would also interpret it as a Messianic psalm, insofar as it reminds me of the Passion and resurrection of Jesus. The Lutheran Study Bible gives Psalm 118 this title: “A Song of Victory,” and the Good News Bible has the following title: “A Prayer of Thanks for Victory.” According to biblical scholars, Psalms 113-118 are also identified as Egyptian Hallel Psalms. These psalms were sung during the three pilgrimage festivals: Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks-Pentecost, and the Feast of Booths/Tabernacles, also called Sukkot. 

The opening two verses of Psalm 118 serve as a responsive “Call to Worship,” thanking God for his steadfast love, God’s covenant faithfulness, God’s grace. Most likely a priest or other worship leader would sing or speak verse one, and the congregation would respond with verse two.

Verses 14-16 emphasise God’s victory; which may have been deliverance from Egyptian slavery and reference to the exodus out of Egypt; or deliverance out of Assyrian or Babylonian exile; or because of the word “my” singular perhaps deliverance from some kind of illness.

Again in verses 17-18, the singular “I” and “me” are used, this time in reference to some kind of life-threatening suffering. The words “I shall not die, but I shall live,” could be understood by us Christians as a reference to Jesus’ resurrection.

Verses 19-20 may be a liturgical entrance rite into Jerusalem for the three pilgrimage festivals. Verse 19 again may have been spoken by a priest or even perhaps all of the faithful pilgrims standing at a gate-entrance into Jerusalem, requesting the gate to be opened for them. Verse 20 may be the response of perhaps some other priest inside the gate who would then open the gate while singing or speaking the words of invitation. For us Christians, perhaps these verses remind us of our resurrection and entrance into heaven. 

Verse 21 is similar to verse 14, this time rather than referring to “the LORD,” the psalmist speaks more intimately and directly to God, saying: “I thank you….” Perhaps again the verse may refer to God delivering the psalmist from some kind of life-threatening illness; or safe travel to Jerusalem for the pilgrimage festival. 

For us Christians, verse 22 is a reference to Jesus’ death and resurrection: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” This verse was very important to the gospel writers and it also is cited in Acts and 1 Peter.

In Matthew 21:42, Jesus cites this verse in reference to his audience—the chief priests, elders and Pharisees, as he tells them parables emphasising reversals. 

In Acts 4:11, Peter addresses the Jewish council, in defence, he bears witness to Jesus, citing this verse, and then states that salvation comes through Jesus. 

In 1 Peter 2:7, Peter cites verse 22 of our psalm in a sermon to Christians—affirming this verse as a fulfilment for Christians who believe that it refers to Jesus. 

Coming back to our psalm, the psalmist, in verses 23-24 is in deep awe, wonder and reverence, at how marvellous the LORD could act to reverse a rejected stone and turn it into the chief cornerstone. Such action, on God’s part, is an occasion for joy and celebration. 

God’s reversals have been present all along, throughout the Bible. Here are a few of them, that you likely remember. 

Abraham and Sarah were old, well beyond child-bearing age, moreover, Sarah was barren. God acted in a marvellous way to reverse that situation, giving Abraham and Sarah their son Isaac, and fulfilling his promise.

There were three other Old Testament matriarchs who were also barren—Rebekah, Rachel and Hannah. God marvellously reversed their situation and gifted them with children. 

Moses, who at first considered himself a poor public speaker and did not have confidence to be a leader, became one of Israel’s finest leaders, thanks to God’s marvellous reversal. 

Joseph was sold by his brothers, and ended up in an Egyptian prison. God marvellously acted, Joseph became Pharaoh’s Prime Minister. 

David was the youngest son of Jesse, he orchestrated the death of Uriah and committed adultery with Bathsheba. Even though David’s sins were great; he repented of his sin deeply desiring to please and obey God; and God acted to marvellously make him Israel’s best-loved king. 

Mary, the mother of Jesus, a young teenager, became pregnant out of wedlock. Then God acted with one of his most marvellous reversals by Mary giving birth to Jesus, God’s Son, our Saviour and Messiah. Moreover, God’s reversals continued in the life and ministry of Jesus, who loved and highly valued the least, the lost, the poor, the outcasts of society. He also called poor fisherfolk to be his disciples and, after his resurrection they would go on to become the leaders of his church.

Speaking of resurrection, the greatest and most marvellous reversal of them all happened on that first Easter Sunday, when God acted to raise Jesus from the dead. 

That is why you and I are here today. To celebrate with joy and thanksgiving Christ’s resurrection, and the promise that one day we too shall share in a resurrection like his. 

Easter is the feast of freedom. It makes the life which it touches a festal life. ‘The risen Christ makes life a perpetual feast,’ said Athanasius. But can the whole life really be a feast? Even life’s dark side—death, guilt, senseless suffering? I think it can. Once we realize that the giver of this feast is the outcast, suffering, crucified Son of man from Nazareth, then every ‘no’ is absorbed into this profound ‘yes’, and is swallowed up in its victory.

Easter is at one and the same time God’s protest against death, and the feast of freedom fromdeath. Anyone who fails to hold these two things together has failed to understand the resurrection of the Christ who was crucified. Resistance is the protest of those who hope, and hope is the feast of the people who resist.1

So today we are filled with joy and celebration because there is hope beyond the grave. There are also hopes and small resurrections in this life. God is still at work to act in marvellous ways to reverse those things which try to destroy us or rob us of hope and new life. God’s reversals at work in our life can and do change failures into victories, hopelessness into hope, and hate into love. The student who fails in one field, studies another field and thrives in it. The sceptic is given a new-found hope when they are healed of their cancer. The one who hated a neighbour down the street because of their skin-colour comes to love them when they discover that they have more in common than what divides them. All of these, and countless more reversals bear testimony to God’s marvellous saving actions and are little resurrections in this life, which point to the big, final resurrection, that, God-willing, we all one day will share in, thanks to Christ’s resurrection. As the apostle Paul reminds us, God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom; God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. So, even though COVID-19 seems like it will never end, there is hope beyond it, thanks to what God has done through the resurrection of Jesus. 

Let everyone say: Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah! Amen! 

1 Jürgen Moltmann, The Power Of The Powerless: The Word Of Liberation For Today (San Francisco, et. al.: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1983), pp. 125-126.