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Our Strength and Our Song

The Psalmist sings our Easter text:

The Lord is my strength and my song.
The Lord has become my salvation.

It s a confession of faith for Easter Day. But which Lord is our strength? Which Lord is our song? Who has become our salvation?

Jesus of Nazareth is our strength and song. The crucified Lord is our salvation. Not a once-crucified but afterwards triumphant Lord-as if all the dying were over with-but an always-being-crucified Lord, who triumphs through his crucifixion-he is our strength and our song.

Henry Nouwen wrote: (Maryknoll, 4/85)

The mission of Jesus was not to wipe out all human sorrow and take away all human pain, but to enter so fully into our world of sorrow and pain that nothing human would remain alien.

Is Jesus a power-wielding conqueror? A manipulating sovereign? A crushing, overpowering victor? No, Jesus is the Lamb who was slain, who gave up power in order to heal and save.

We have seen, again, in Holy week that he did not side-step suffering or dodge the cross. We have recognized that Easter does not eliminate death. Easter is hope dawning in darkness. Easter is love, alive again, in the depths of grief. Easter is power evident in weakness. Easter is life in the presence of death.

As a pastor, in your home, or waiting in a hospital hallway, I, too, have raged against the injustice of life's course, and dismissed pat answers when the heart cried "Why? Why? Why? Why has God forsaken me?"

But then again, there have been times, when although there was no strength to continue; when the platitudes of friends only showed their distance from our despair- times when we have said, "I cannot bear more; I cannot keep on going. But we kept on going. When we had no reserves, they were given to us. We dismissed God, but nearer than breath, closer than hands and feet, God came to us-not to explain injustice but as a presence in the midst of it. God was there, at one with us, in Jesus of Nazareth as the crucified one, a victim, like us, of life's exigencies."

The Lord is my strength.
The Lord is my song.
God has become my salvation.

We have turned to God with empty hands and found a strength to keep on going. The living, crucified, Lord extends his arms to the poor, the suffering, and oppressed...

Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

...and the burdens of the world are transformed by his presence. That is what the Christian gospel is all about. The Lord is my strength, not my escape, but my strength. The Lord gives me a song in the midst of trouble. The crucified Lord is my salvation.

For millions in this world, the burden is poverty; for others, the burden is wealth. Neither condition, poverty or wealth, brings life. And evangelism is not the wealthy helping the poor. The rich have their own problems getting through a needle's eye. We are part and parcel of a culture that celebrates its own strength and trusts in it. We taut superiority and put our trust in power over others. But is there anything Jesus can tell us about that, three days after the crucifixion.

What drives our frantic effort for financial security, national security, personal security? Is it fear of death? Is our sin idolatry-a fear-driven pursuit of gods who have no power to save? And is it a moral, spiritual lapse that puts our fears before the first commandment-you shall have no other gods before me? There is something more to security than weapons and financial clout. There is something more to security in the church than keeping the sinful out. That something more is the crucified Lord who gives a song to the suffering, and salvation to the powerless. How tangled up we get with our securities! How little they mean in the long run! And how useless our efforts to compare ourselves favorably to others!

No place is a secure place. No wall is a secure wall. No weapon is a secure weapon. No comparison with others makes us good enough. Security for the Christian church is the love of God in Jesus Christ. Security in the Christian church is the security of the one who went to the cross and won the day. Death fell captive to him who had no place to lay his head. Death gave way to him whose only weapon was a vulnerable spirit. Our security lies with Jesus of Nazareth who breaks down barriers with redeeming grace and includes us among his friends.

Just picture Jesus, if you will, returning home, with Gethsemane, Golgotha, and the empty tomb behind him. Just imagine, Bethlehem's child ~ grown up now ~ the Word incarnate with nail prints in his hands and feet, a bloodied face, whip-torn flesh, and a spear hanging broken from his side, coming back from death and heading for the gates of heaven. Just picture Jesus, if you will, gathering the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, gently leading those who are with young. Nothing will hold him back. "Do not hold on to me, Mary," he said, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"

In our minds eye, see him moving toward heaven! The angelic hosts rising with a roar of welcome. The throngs of history singing along behind him:

The Lord is our strength and our song.
The Lord has become our salvation.

They come streaming out of every refuge on the earth ~ from tar-paper shacks and tin ~ box houses, out of the caves and canyons of the hills-Palestinians, campesinos, indigenous peoples, lepers. Out of the ghettos, the barrios, the refugee camps of the centuries ~ they come. Out of our family circles, our closets, our neighborhoods, from the margins and alleyways of clubs and culture, abused and neglected ~ they come.

From city centers and rural plains, here are the poor, the powerless, the disregarded, bearing the stories of their history, their faith, their failures, their imprisonment ~ refugees who have buried their children in the sand; addicts and outcasts, waiting at the margins of life.

We have heard them crying with the laments of Jeremiah:

Is it nothing to you all you that pass by,
see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow.

But the crucified Lord does not pass by; he gathers them in and beckons them on. "Take up your palette and walk" he says. "Open your eyes, and see" he says. "Unwrap the grave clothes and breathe", he says. They are following the Lamb to a new creation ~ weakened bodies strengthened by hope, straightening up with a glimmer of self esteem in the company of one who is acquainted with their grief and who has beaten death down with his love ~ cherished, welcomed, gathered, included in God's kingdom.

They are shouting now:

O grave, show us your victory!
O death, where is your sting?

O principalities, where is your power?

We are marching in the light of God,
marching in the light of God.
We are marching , marching, marching, marching
marching in the light of God.

The stark realities of human history have yet to give way, but the struggle is transformed by the one in their midst ~ the crucified Lord who died and lives. To be secure in the face of death is to be with him. To have a song is to be with him, wherever he may lead us.

The Lord is our strength and our song.
The Lord has become our salvation.

How they sing! Listen to them sing!

Easter is for the needy. Easter is for people with empty hands and open hearts. Easter is for those who follow the crucified Jesus, who leads the way home to God. Look! He's at the door of Heaven! The crucified Lord, arriving home! John's caught a glimpse of it in his dream:

I saw in the right hand of the one seated on the throne a scroll written on the inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals; and I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, "Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?" And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it. Then one of the elders said to me, "Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals."

Here he comes!

Then I saw... a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered... [take] the scroll from the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne.

Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; ...myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, singing with full voice, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!" Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea...singing, ". . . to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!"

It's just incredible! Listen to them sing!

The Lord is my strength.
The Lord is my song.
The Lord has become my salvation.