Is this a psalm for a victory parade or a protest march?
I can hear the cheerleaders encouraging the onlookers lining the route to join in with the passing refrain: ‘God’s steadfast love endures for ever’.
I can hear the warm up act encouraging the marchers’ chants before they set off: “let me hear you shout it, house of … : ‘God’s steadfast love endures for ever’”, “let me hear you sing it, house of …. : ‘God’s steadfast love endures for ever’”.
I can hear that slogan echo down the years to my private prayers: ‘Your steadfast love endures for ever’.
Now that all mass gatherings, nearly all over the world, have ceased, I can hear especially clearly the echo of that very public chant come down the years to this solitary who is struggling to pray for herself and her world. Normally Palm Sunday means looking outwards, seeing the Christ enter his final days as he goes through Jerusalem’s gates for the last time, watching him as he enters accompanied by the sounds of songs and shouts, songs sung by singers or shouted by proclaimers failing to really understand what they sing and shout.
But this year I suddenly notice a new need to bring this psalm in from the streets through the door to my home and into my heart. Today, I need to be both the one who cries “open the gate!”, and the one who welcomes the incomer:
Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord;
the righteous shall enter through it.
(Psalm 118.19-20 NRSV)
What thresholds am I currently refusing to cross? What gates in me am I declining the opportunity to open? Where am I resisting letting the knowledge of God’s steadfast love flood through me?
After all this psalm, like countless others, tells me I do not need to go through another battle since steadfast love has already won out. It tells me I am not knocking at gates that are unused to opening; I am not going to meet an unknown reception. However much I hide from the knowledge, however many times I feel others have ‘rejected’ the very core of me, judging my ‘stone’ as wildly unsuitable for their grand project, I know that the embrace of steadfast love waits to greet me.
I know my gates are sometimes there for my protection, just as at the moment my front door is the barrier which keeps me from additional disease. But what if my habitual defences, in this instance, point to one of my greatest weaknesses? What if I am isolating myself against God’s steadfast love because I fear what may be demanded of me? What if I am isolating myself against Love because I don’t feel strong enough to do or be what God might demand I perform or to become?
Every passionate prayer is an opening of my gates. I remember what I prayed seven days ago:
shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.
Psalm 118 testifies that if I open myself to being shaped by God’s steadfast love, I open myself to God’s transfiguring plan for me:
the stone that the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing;
it is marvellous in our eyes.
As I open my gates and cross my latest threshold towards God, Steadfast Love strips away my defences and disguises. If I am left vulnerable, with tingling nerve ends supersensitive to new creation, I am not left alone. Steadfast Love gives me new eyes so I can look at everything around me with the lenses of a love which is constant and dependable. By opening these eyes, I might finally be able to be present enough in my now to understand God’s Presence in it, all around me. In the abundance of the Love that surrounds me, wherever and however I am, I might be able to sing again:
This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
(If you would like to join with an audience of thousands in these days of isolation try listening to this modern gospel version of this song by Fred Hammond https://youtu.be/o5fXhoxJqQQ )
this could be the Gate of the Lord. Canon 7D. f9. 1/80. ISO 1000.