Sermon Commentary for Sunday, March 31, 2024

Psalm 114 Commentary

The Lectionary assigned parts of Psalm 118 for both Palm/Passion Sunday and Easter and since the March 24 sermon commentary here on the CEP website was on Psalm 118, I will direct you to look that up in our Sermon Commentary Library.  But for this commentary we will take the psalm for Year B Easter Evening: Psalm 114.

What we have in this psalm could be called Israel’s elevator speech version of the history of the Exodus from Egypt.  It’s a swift 8-verse summary of the Exodus, the parting of the Red Sea, the spectacle on Mount Sinai / the giving of the Law, the miracle of water coming from a rock at Meribah, and the parting of the Jordan River.  Not only is this psalm compact, it’s winsome and almost playful.  The Red Sea, Mount Sinai, the rock at Meribah, and the Jordan River are all nearly personified and then addressed directly.  “Why did you flee, O sea?  Why did you skip like rams and lambs, mountains and hills?”

But these are finally rhetorical questions (good thing since you would not exactly expect the Red Sea or Mount Sinai to answer you!).  They are rhetorical because the reason is obvious and it is stated in verse 7: the very presence of Yahweh is so majestic, so awesome, that the very Creation cannot help but tremble and respond to God’s glory.  When you get that close to Almighty God, something incredible is going to happen!

Of course, the irony of it all is that despite all that Israel witnessed when they got close to the majesty of Yahweh, it did not exactly transform them into the kind of holy people God desired.  In some ways the Red Sea, Mount Sinai, the River Jordan, and the flinty rock at Meribah did a better job responding to God than did the actual people!  After all, it had not been long after the parting of the Red Sea and even in the immediate context of the spectacles on Mount Sinai that the people decided to ditch Yahweh in favor of a Golden Calf they insisted that Aaron fashion for them.  You would almost like to ask, “Why did you not tremble and respond to your God appropriately, O Israel!?”

But, you may be asking by now, what does this have to do with Easter?  Well, in the broadest sense of course we could say that the death and resurrection of God’s only Son is the ultimate Exodus from sin and from the house of bondage that just is this broken, fallen world.  The trajectory of God’s salvation that began with the call of Abram in Genesis 12 continued throughout the history of Israel and culminated in the work of Christ Jesus the Lord.

But perhaps we can make a few other connections in case we preach on this psalm on or around Easter.  For one thing we can note the irony that although Jesus of Nazareth was the incarnate Son of God—the very presence of God—on the soil of this earth, the humility of it all meant that the Creation and most all of the people around Jesus did not recoil from or respond to the sheer weight of glory that Jesus had within him.  The way the Messiah ultimately came to this world turned out to be a cosmic event hiding in plain sight and that was, as a matter of fact, something easy to miss seeing or overlook.  Yes, the miracles brought the kingdom of God near and in plain sight.  And there was the one occasion of the Transfiguration that gob smacked the three disciples who witnessed it (but it was only three folks total who did see it).  Otherwise Jesus quietly went about his saving work with little fanfare and the whole thing ended in the ignominy of dying naked and alone on a spit of wood outside the city.

So to also the people in Jesus’s day we could ask that question “Why did you not respond appropriately to the One whom John identified as being full of grace and truth and in whom a person could see the glory of God?”  In some ways the Creation responded better in Jesus’s case too.  As he was dying, the sun hid its light and darkness covered the land.  When he died, the earth quaked, rocks split.  When he rose again, once more the earth quaked and the soldiers standing close to that cosmic event keeled over in dead faints.

All of it is testament to the unique dual truth of the Gospel: at once God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself and it was all accomplished through the humble carpenter’s son from a third-rate town in the backwaters of the mighty Roman Empire.  But for those who were granted eyes to see it all, they became the very children of God, saved to eternal life through the gateway of a death that alone could lead to that new life everlasting.

As the end of Psalm 114 puts it, we are right to tremble before all this; to tremble before the combination we sing about in a well-known song: the awesome combination of “meekness and majesty.  Bow down and worship, for this is your God!”

Illustration Idea

There is a moment in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath when the impoverished Oakie family of the Joads are riding in their jalopy on their slow trek to California, where they believe a bounty of employment opportunities awaits them.  But the journey is difficult at best.  Setbacks are the norm.  At one point when they are traveling a difficult stretch, Ma Joad is asleep in the back of the truck with Grandma next to her.  But Grandma dies early in the night, but Ma Joad knows they cannot stop at that point or risk letting the authorities know they had a corpse with them.  So Ma stays next to Grandma’s dead body all night.

The next day when the family discovers what happened, Steinbeck tells us not that they were surprised or astonished at Ma Joad’s strength.  Instead he said the other family members were afraid of Ma’s strength.

What a curious way to put it (Steinbeck was good at that).  When you come into contact with someone whose heft of character and depth of strength are powerful, you recoil a little in fear, in awe.  If that can happen sometimes with the various people in our lives, just imagine how the Creation and we people respond to the nearness of no less than Almighty God.  And that is pretty much the point of Psalm 114.


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