Give thanks to the Lord because he is good,
because his faithful love lasts forever.
2 Let Israel say it:
“God’s faithful love lasts forever!”
19 Open the gates of righteousness for me
so I can come in and give thanks to the Lord!
20 This is the Lord’s gate;
those who are righteous enter through it.
21 I thank you because you answered me,
because you were my saving help.
22 The stone rejected by the builders
is now the main foundation stone!
23 This has happened because of the Lord;
it is astounding in our sight!
24 This is the day the Lord acted;
we will rejoice and celebrate in it!
25 Lord, please save us!
Lord, please let us succeed!
26 The one who enters in the Lord’s name is blessed;
we bless all of you from the Lord’s house.
27 The Lord is God!
He has shined a light on us!
So lead the festival offering with ropes
all the way to the horns of the altar.
28 You are my God—I will give thanks to you!
You are my God—I will lift you up high!
29 Give thanks to the Lord because he is good,
because his faithful love lasts forever.
Psalm 118: 1-2, 19-29
Using imagery from today’s Psalm, we can understand Lent as a kind of liturgical “gate” leading us to Holy Week and Easter. Lent can be a somber time, because we are called to reflect on the ways in which our world and we ourselves are alienated from God. The cornerstone of Christian faith is the coming of Christ, God’s amazing gift of love. Yet love can be rejected, just as today’s Psalm speaks of the cornerstone being rejected. Indeed, all too often in our world today it seems that love is threatened: by the continuing reality of racism, by bigotry and religious intolerance, by the scourge of violence in our country and around the world, and by our own inclinations to harden our hearts against those with whom we disagree.
In this “gateway” time of Lent, we may feel drawn to join in the appeal of the prophet Habakkuk: “O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you ‘Violence!’ and you will not save?” (1:2). Such a response is reasonable as we weep for a world where refugees face closed doors, politicians play on fears of those who are portrayed as “other,” and we ourselves sometimes fail to offer full dignity and respect to those we encounter in our everyday environments.
However, even in the midst of a world where love is often under threat and rejected, today’s Psalm reminds us that the season of Lent is leading us toward a greater truth. We pass through this gateway in order to worship a God whose “love endures forever.” God never forces love onto the world, but God’s grace is relentless, and in the end, a key part of our faith as Christians is that love will be victorious in the end. It is in this sense that we can understand how the message of the rejected cornerstone turns into a song of hope and praise to God.
As we move toward Holy Week and the “gates of righteousness” open before us, we will commemorate Maundy Thursday, when God extended love to human beings in a unique and unexpected way, and Good Friday, when that love appeared to be defeated and rejected. The ultimate moment on our liturgical journey, however, will be Easter, when love broke the chains of death. Easter forms the framework by which we understand the future and approach the world around us. Even when things seem dark, we cannot give in to despair. Acknowledging the darkness that we sometimes find around us, we must continue to work for justice in our communities, reconciliation in our churches, and healing in our lives. The risen Christ continues to beckon us to make God’s kingdom manifest here on earth.
In that spirit, let us pray together…
God of love,
thank you for this season of Lent
when we meditate on the brokenness and beauty of this world
and the mystery of your enduring love for us.
Help us find ways to serve
as gateways of your love for those around us.
Free us from all bonds of sin and oppression
that affect us individually and collectively.
Help us hold the promise of Easter in our hearts
as we continue our Lenten journey.
We ask all this of you, our creator, redeemer, and sanctifier,
Matthew Jennings White is a first-year M.Div. student and an aspirant for ordination in the Episcopal Church. Matthew is an acting vestry member St. David’s Episcopal in Chesterfield, Virginia and served as a delegate to the 2016 Annual Council for the Diocese of Southern Virginia.
The Rev. Lib McGregor Simmons is Pastor of Davidson College Presbyterian Church in Davidson, NC.