Psalm 118, which our class took up on March 23, is (possibly excepting Psalm 22) the psalm most associated with Holy Week. It’s the psalm shouted by the crowds as Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. It’s the psalm quoted by Jesus following the Parable of the Tenants, which he tells in the temple courts the next day, and again when he mourns for Jerusalem. Since it is the concluding psalm in the Egyptian Hallel, it is likely part of the hymn Jesus and his disciples sang after the Last Supper.
Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:
“‘The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?
“Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.” (Matthew 21:42-43)
The Revised Common Lectionary assigns Psalm 118 to Palm Sunday and to Easter in all three years (and on the 2nd Sunday in Easter in Year C).
Psalm 118 was originally a processional psalm; the different sections may have been sung at different places along the way to the temple. The opening is a call for praise (vv. 1-4) followed by testimony about the Lord’s deliverance from enemies (vv. 5-13). Aside from the first two verses, the lectionary ignores this part of the psalm. (Psalm Sunday uses vv. 1-2, 19-29; Easter uses vv. 1-2, 14-24.)
After more testimony about the Lord saving the psalmist from death (vv. 14-18), the psalm calls for the “gates of righteousness” to be opened (presumably as the procession reaches the temple gates). The final part of the psalm contains its most famous verses: “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (v. 22), “This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.” (v. 24); and “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (v. 26).
The only full versification of Psalm 118 in recent CRC hymnals is “Give Thanks to God for All His Goodness” (PFAS #118H/LUYH #196/PH87 #118), which was written for the gray Psalter Hymnal by Stanley Wiersma and set to GENEVAN 98/118 (the only tune used for two psalms in that hymnal). Each line ends with “Your love forever is the same!” The versification is very concise; stanza two covers 10 verses. A sample is here.
The remaining hymns in PFAS and LUYH ignore the first 13 verses of the psalm.
“The Right Hand of God” (PFAS 118F) is inspired by vv. 14-15 (“The Lord is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation. Shouts of joy and victory resound in the tents of the righteous: ‘The Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!’”).
The right hand of God is writing in our land,
writing with power and with love,
our conflicts and our fears,
our triumphs and our tears
are recorded by the right hand of God.
Subsequent verses have God’s hand pointing, striking and healing. The tune is LA MANO DE DIOS.
“The Glorious Gates of Righteousness” (PFAS #118A/PH87 #179/PH57 #234) is a versification of vv. 19-29 from the 1912 Psalter. It’s one of only five psalm settings to appear in all three Psalter Hymnals but not in Lift Up Your Hearts. It is set to ZERAH.
The glorious gates of righteousness
throw open unto me,
and I will come to them with praise
and enter thankfully,
and I will come to them with praise
and enter thankfully.
Four of the hymns in PFAS are derived from v. 24, reportedly the most shared (on social media) Bible verse of 2013. The verse probably refers to Passover or the Exodus from Egypt, not “today.”
The most familiar to us was “This Is the Day” (PFAS #118K/PH87 #241), which is one of the notable psalm settings from the gray Psalter Hymnal that was omitted from Lift Up Your Hearts. The version in the Psalter Hymnal has three Trinitarian verses: “This is the day that the Lord has made…,” “This is the day that he rose again,” and “This is the day when the Spirit came….” (The three days in the three verses are Passover, Easter and Pentecost.) The version in PFAS has stanzas 2 & 3 based on vv. 24 & 28 of Psalm 118: “Open to us the gates of God…” and “You are our God, we will praise your name….” The tune is here.
“This Is the Day the Lord Hath Made” (PFAS #118E) is a paraphrase of part of the psalm by Isaac Watts and set to NUN DANKET ALL’ UND BRINGET EHR’.
This is the day the Lord hath made;
the hours are all God’s own.
Let heaven rejoice; let earth be glad,
and praise surround the throne.
“This Is the Day the Lord Has Made” (PFAS #118D) is another paraphrase of the last part of the psalm in 7/8 time. One of our class member described is as “interesting, but not unsingable.”
“Psallite Deo/This Is the Day” (PFAS #118C) is a Taizé hymn with a simple congregational refrain (“This is the day the Lord has made! Alleluia, alleluia!”) and a solo part. A sample is here. A related Taizé hymn is “Surrexit Christus/The Lord is Risen” (PFAS #118J).
Psalms for All Seasons includes four responsorial settings. “Hail and Hosanna!” (PFAS #118B/LUYH #147/SNC #146) is a three-part canon. It is set to vv. 19-29 in PFAS and LUYH and vv. 1-4 & 14-29 in Sing! A New Creation. According to the performance notes: “This setting is most appropriate when using the psalm in the context of a Palm Sunday celebration or during the season of Advent.”
“This Is the Day the Lord Has Made” (PFAS #118G) is another responsorial refrain with vv. 1-2 & 14-29 as the text. The alternative is “Celtic Alleluia” (PFAS #118G-alt) which is also found in Lift Up Your Hearts (#198) without the Psalm 118 text and in Sing! A New Creation (#148) as the refrain of a longer hymn (“Now He Is Living, the Christ”).
The final responsorial setting is “Jesus Is Risen and We Shall Arise” (PFAS #118I) (called “A Paraphrase for Easter”) with The Message paraphrase of vv. 14-24 as the text. The refrain is the refrain of “Alleluia! Jesus Is Risen” (LUYH #205), which is set to EARTH AND ALL STARS.
The blue Psalter Hymnal includes two additional Psalm 118 settings: “O Praise the Lord, for He Is Good” (PH57 #232) and “Let All Exalt Jehovah’s Goodness” (PH57 #233). We didn’t sing either of these.
(This is the 22nd post in my continuing series on the Psalms for All Seasons Sunday school class I co-teach with Andrew Friend. Each week we sing psalm settings from Psalms for All Seasons, Lift Up Your Hearts, and other CRC hymnals. Previous posts is the series focused on Psalm 121, Psalm 122, Psalms 2/99, Psalm 72, Psalm 95, Psalm 147, Psalm 112, Psalm 29, Psalm 40, Psalm 23, Psalm 27, Psalm 130, Psalm 15, Psalm 51, Psalm 6, Psalm 32, Psalm 143, Psalms 38/102, Psalm 31, Psalm 116, Psalm 16, and Psalm 22.)