From Ashley Gray
Psalm 136 overflows with praise and thanksgiving, a song of triumph expressed in remembrance, recounting the Lord’s great deeds: a glorious Creation, the deliverance of the Israelites out of Egypt and the wilderness, victory in the Promised Land, and continued rescue and provision in the present day. Every statement is punctuated with the phrase “for his steadfast love endures forever,” placing the whole story of the people of God under that banner. This is a God who acts, powerfully and tangibly, out of his unchanging and unceasing love, and whose actions repeatedly reveal the depth of that love for his people. What else is due but a response of fervent gratitude? It’s an apt psalm for Eastertide as we celebrate Jesus’s victory over death and sin, the deliverance of the whole world, the inauguration of a new creation. The story doesn’t end where the psalmist leaves it. It continues, and it’s even bigger, even more earth-shattering.
Or at least, I know it should be earth-shattering. I wish I could say this Easter season has been one where exclamations of gratitude have overflowed from my lips, but in truth, I’ve offered more tears than praises in recent weeks. Sometimes God’s Word pierces my heart and sometimes I’m too numb to receive it. Psalms like this register very differently from the valley, a time and place in which I feel unmoored and incapable. Like I’ve fallen out of the story.
But I find encouragement in knowing that Israel spends pretty much the whole Old Testament in turbulent dialogue with the reality this psalm proclaims, even while they were living it (looking at you, Exodus). Forgetting, spurning, doubting, remembering, expecting, clinging to it. And if the Lord’s love endured even when his chosen people didn’t trust it, then I can have faith, feeble as it is, that he will endure with me—and that it will be no passive thing.
I am also deeply grateful to belong to a church—historic and global as well as this immediate body of fellowship at CotC—that dwells in recalling what God has done and has promised to do. Every Sunday during the Great Thanksgiving we hear that “It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks to [God].” At all times, in all places, we lift up our hearts to the Lord. Because there is a history, writ large across time as well as in our own stories, of God’s steadfast, enduring love.
I have an image of that love—first, constant, eternal—as a battering ram. I may feel painfully disconnected from the resurrection life in this moment, but I can see the dents in the door. I give thanks for that.
I am an archivist for two Boston performing arts organizations, despite lacking all musical talent, which I take as proof that God has a sense of humor. I’m obsessed with stories, ice cream, and dishwasher Tetris.