A circle of friends on pilgrimage for the love of God

Easter – Hallelujah

The Resurrection of Christ, tapestry in Vatican museum

Easter 2 2022
Rev. Doug Floyd
Acts 5:12–29, Psalm 111, Revelation 1:1-19, John 20:19–31

We are in the days of hilarious celebration. Eastertide is a time for feasting, laughter and even jokes. In the Resurrection of Jesus Christ we rejoice in the one-time event of Jesus conquering sin and death in the grave. At the same time, we look forward in unshakeable hope for the day when Christ’s victory is unveiled fully within us and within all creation.

We are being transformed in Christ. Rowan Williams describes this forward watching and waiting through the words of Diadochos of Photike. He says that we are “looking east in winter we feel the warmth of the sun on our faces, while still sensing an icy chill at our backs. Our divided and distorted awareness of the world is not healed instantly. But we are not looking at this phenomenon from a distance: we do truly sense the sun on our faces; and we have good reason to think that the climate and landscape of our humanity can indeed be warmed and transfigured.”[1]

As a church we realize how each of us individually and collectively as a group fall short of God’s grace. Yet at the same time, we sense the warmth of God’s grace at work in our lives. We feast and sing and celebrate with a sure hope that the warmth of God’s holy fire will eventually consume us and we will become a living fire of love unto our God.

Our Gospel and New Testament readings today all give us images of the Risen Christ walking in the midst of His people. He speaks the word of peace to the disciples in the upper room; he works miracles through the words and even the shadow of Peter in Acts; and he appears to John in unspeakable glory in Revelation. He continues to walk among His people even now.

Just as the early disciples did not initially recognize the Risen Lord in their midst, we also may fail to recognize our Lord in the midst. And yet, He is present. He is present in the company of His people, He is present in the Word read and The Word proclaimed. He is present in the prayers of His people and in the Great Thanksgiving. He is present as we gather, and He sends us out in and through His Spirit as we leave this place of holy communion By His Holy Spirit, Christ is present.

Even as we read His Word and seek His face in prayer, we sing the great Hallelujah. As we sing and shout and proclaim His praises, we began to discern the great and glorious God who dwells among us even now.

Our Psalm today is part of a trilogy of Psalms shouting praise to the Lord. Psalm 111, 112, and 113 all open with a great Hallelujah. Psalm 113 alone closes with the great Hallelujah closing this trilogy of songs of praise unto the Lord in His goodness and glory. Today we pause on Psalm 111 and let this song of great joy fill our mouths and our hearts with praise.

Psalm 111 opens with “Praise the Lord!” This is actually the word Hallelujah and has been translated as “Praise the Lord.” Hallelujah is a special word. It’s like an explosive word of praise. It consists of two words: Hallel and Jah. Jah is a shortened version of the Lord’s covenant name. Hallel is a word of thanks and praise that erupts in the belly and thunders from the mouth. There is a sense of jumping up with a shout of praise to God.

In Scripture, the Hallelujah is usually proclaimed in the congregation. It is accompanied with singing and sometimes dancing. It plays a significant role in the exile. The people of God no longer have a Temple where they can gather and worship. In exile, they gather in congregations to sing praise to God. These praises are not simply emotional releases but involves the whole person: the emotions, the body, and the mind. Praising God is just as intellectual as it is emotional as we shall see in this Psalm.

We begin with the burst of Hallelujah unto the faithful covenant God. Then the Psalm gives confessional expression of praise to God.

I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart,

in the company of the upright, in the congregation. [2]

The Hebrew word for thanks in this phrase is “Yawdaw.” It is not simply an exclamation of praise but has a confessional sense that involves both my own weakness and God’s mercy and grace. We come before God confessing our need and His strength and glory. We seek to bring our whole heart. Unfortunately, our hearts are not whole.

By heart, the Psalmist is speaking of the very center of the person which involves our mind, our emotions, and our desires. We might say our competing loves. Because our loves have been disordered by sin, we suffer offense. We long for the Lord to heal our hearts so that we might worship Him with our whole hearts.

The Psalmist makes mention of two distinct groups: the company of the upright and the congregation. While some commentators tend to group both words into one group, these are distinct Hebrew words with distinct implications.

The company of the upright speaks of a group of close, faithful intimates. There is a sense of confidentiality associated with this first group. We may not bear our secrets in the midst of the congregation, but we need to bear our secrets to someone. The Christian Celts spoke of soul friends. An individual or a small group with whom I can seek to become transparent. I have sought to cultivate a few of these relations for over twenty years, and it has become a vital part of my spiritual journey.

Marriage can be a great source of soul friendship. It has been a place where I have learned to be weak and humble. I also have a few friends with whom I’ve learned to let down my defenses, tell my story and listen to their stories. It is in these places that I’ve grown more aware of my brokenness as well as God’s abundant grace.

According to the Psalmist, praise begins in our heart and takes shape in the company of the upright, among trusted friends. Then it is proclaimed in the congregation. We gather at church with the people of God, and we join in one voice of praise.

Now our Psalm shifts to focus on the works of the Lord.

Great are the works of the Lord,

studied by all who delight in them. [3]

The rest of Psalm 111 speaks of considering various aspects of the works of the Lord. These works reveal God’s splendor and majesty. As God’s people remember the works of God, they are reminded of His righteous ways, His grace and mercy, and His absolute faithfulness to His people. We remember and rehearse His redeeming acts in the life of Israel, in the life of the church, and even in our own lives. He is ever faithful and ever true.

When this song is sung in exile, it reminds the people of God that we have not been forgotten. We sing on behalf of our brothers and sisters who suffer for the sake of the Gospel. We sing it on behalf of those trapped in war zones like Ukraine and Nigeria. We sing in joy knowing that God will never forsake His people.

Even as we consider His redeeming acts, we consider His creating and sustaining acts. Anywhere we turn, we behold a world full of beauty and glory. Even as we are awed by the glory of this creation, we give thanks to God. We give thanks for the flowers that bloom on our porch as well as the trees that grow in our yards.

As we continue to cultivate this life of praise and thanks, we begin to see the world around us in a new light. It is truly shining with the light of God’s glory. All things and even all people bear witness to Him. I’ve tried to make a habit of giving thanks and praise for the people who are obstacles in my life. They may not be enemies, but they may simply be irritants. People who may tend to stress me or disagree with me or even ignore me. But they also are created by the good and loving God. Over time, I learned to see the beauty of some people who got on my nerves. Over time, I learned to find in them hints of the glory of God.

As our hearts become whole, we can see the grace and love of God anywhere we turn. We respond in praise of God. The Psalmist teaches us this response at times takes the shape of lament, of intercession, of active intervention. It all consummates in praise and trust of the God who is absolutely faithful.

This teaches us a deeper wisdom rooted in holy awe of God.

10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;

all those who practice it have a good understanding.

His praise endures forever! [4]

During this joyous season of Eastertide, let us train our mouths and bodies to give praise to God in all things.

[1] Williams, Rowan. Looking East in Winter (p. 13). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ps 111:1.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ps 111:2.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ps 111:10.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.