I once called Easter Monday “that forgotten day of the church calendar seemingly dedicated to, well, getting on with our lives.” This year, when nothing feels all that normal, it’s probably less true that Easter’s joy will “[dissolve] into the mundane, predictable routine of the workweek.”
But under quarantine or not, we’ll continue to
spend much our lives living in something more like Easter Monday than Easter Sunday: not unaware that the resurrection has happened or unmoved by it, but already turning away from that reality to confront — wearily, fearfully — the more immediate, seemingly more urgent concerns of our world. A world that — to most outward appearances — seems almost entirely, troublingly unchanged by what happened on Easter morning.
But the key word there is seems. We know that everything is different on this side of the Cross and Empty Tomb. Even Scripture itself takes on new meaning.
Christians can’t read a passage like today’s psalm as if the Resurrection hasn’t happened. Christians have been doing that since the birth of the church, as when Peter quotes Psalm 118:22 in his speech to the religious council in Jerusalem: “…Jesus is ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’ There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:11-12).
I don’t mean that the original context or intent disappears; just that it takes on a new layer of meaning. “As Christians read the Bible,” explains Rowan Williams, “the story converges on Jesus…. without trying to undermine or ignore the integrity of Jewish Scripture in itself… the Christian is bound to say that he or she can only read those Jewish Scriptures as moving towards the point at which a new depth of meaning is laid bare in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.”
When the psalmist exclaims that “I shall not die, but I shall live” (118:17), he sounds to me like Jesus, and can be heard as speaking for all who join in Jesus’ resurrection.
But even if the immediate joy of that event disappears over the horizon for another year, we can read the refrain of Psalm 118 with new eyes, and new appreciation:
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his steadfast love endures forever! (118:1, 29)
As I wrap up a series on spending time with God, it’s good to hear yet again who God is: good, strong and mighty (v 14), and worthy of exaltation (v 16) and thanksgiving (v 19). Faced with this God, what can his people sing, over and over, but “His steadfast love endures forever” (v 2)?
As this morning’s commentary stresses, Psalm 118 is an “individual song of thanksgiving,” but “set in the context of community worship, complete with antiphonal singing” — that is, call and response.
So having heard the Easter Sunday call, what shall be our Easter Monday response?
It’s easy enough to hear “Christ is risen!” and reply, “He is risen indeed! Alleluia!” But God’s call of new life demands a response of new living. God’s call is more than words; so, too, must our response be.
May we proceed as a people who “shall not die, but… shall live,” loved steadfastly by a God who is always with us. Amen.
While I might post more pieces like this once in a while, as I continue to spend my mornings in the daily lectionary, today will end the daily series at Pietist Schoolman. I need to put some more time back into the book that’s still due at summer’s end. But if you’ve enjoyed reading a Christian historian attempting to write devotionally, stay tuned for an announcement about another book that I’m working on.