According to the Talmud, Psalm 30 was used in the dedication of the temple by Judas Maccabeus and his brothers in the year 165 B.C. Later, Jews began to read this text during Hanukkah, the annual celebration that grew out of this dedication. In the psalm, an individual prayer to God for salvation expands to become a corporate expression of praise of this salvation. And so, Christ committed his spirit to his Father on the cross. Three days later, Christ was raised to life. The Lord’s Supper helps us reflect on how this personal story of salvation, through the power of the Holy Spirit, becomes a corporate reality for all of us who place their faith in Christ. We are his body, his temple, so each time we partake of the Lord’s Supper, we dedicate the temple anew for our service in the name of Christ to the glory of God.
In the psalm there is a movement from death to life. Verse 1 speaks of being rescued from enemies. Verse 2 praises God for healing and giving hope. And verse 3 is one of many inversions found in the poem–that God brought the psalmist “up from the realm of the dead” and kept him from going “down to the pit.” This inversion is found in the Lord’s Supper. In the crucifixion, Jesus died. The bread and the wine remind us of his death. They remind us of our own death as well. But God did not leave Jesus in the grave. The resurrection is a story of hope. Just as God raised Jesus from the dead, the same Spirit will raise us. We are a new humanity in Christ. We are already becoming part of the New Creation to come. In the Lord’s Supper, the bread and wine remind us of Christ’s death but the corporate nature of the celebration–the body of Christ gathered together–is itself the visible hope of the resurrection.
Another idea in the psalm is a movement from sorrow to joy. Verses 6-8 tells us that at one point, the psalmist felt invincible. When he was prosperous, he thought that nothing could move him. (Note how self-centered verse 6 is, the number of times the first person “I” appears.) But then something happens to the psalmist, perhaps an illness (since v. 2 references healing). Whatever the event, it was when the LORD “hid his face” that the psalmist realized God alone is the true source of his prosperity and life. It was only because the LORD favored him that he had stood strong like a mountain. When God hid his face, the psalmist discovered his folly, but also that the LORD is merciful and “my help” (v. 10).
The mercy of God is manifest in verse 5, where the psalmist tells us God’s anger is but a moment, but the LORD’s favor lasts a lifetime. So when those dark times come, we weep, but we have hope that morning is coming, and with it joy. Verse 5 uses the Hebrew concept of day, which starts in the evening. You see this idea most vividly in the Genesis 1 story of creation, and it was evening and it was morning. Sorrow comes at night but joy will overcome it as light overcomes darkness. The momentary sorrow of Jesus’ death was overcome with joy for Mary Magdalene when she realized the man talking to her was not the gardener she presumed but the Tree of Life himself. We see the frustrations of life overcome with ecstatic joy when Peter dives out of his fishing boat to swim to the shore where he sees Jesus his Christ standing.
Verse 5 also says that our wailing and sackcloth are turned into dancing and joy (which could also be translated as mirth, gaiety, pleasure). This imagery is of our funeral becoming a wedding, which is exactly what God did through the cross and resurrection. The Lord’s Supper symbolizes God’s destruction of death and bestowal of life. When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, it is an anticipation of the great wedding feast of the Lamb in the new creation. As we gather at the table, we confess our struggles, our sorrows, and our failings. But through the bread and wine, we celebrate Christ’s triumph over death, the Spirit that raised him from the dead now living in us, and we confess anew our faith that we will be raised to everlasting life in his Kingdom.
Finally, the psalmist uses imagery of moving from silence to singing. Verse 9 asks the questions, what benefit is there if I die and am silenced? What good is it if I become dust? Can it praise you? The ancient Hebrew idea before belief in the resurrection of the dead was that you had this life and this life alone in which to serve and praise God. The dead were silent and they could not act. But God’s desire for us is not for us to be silent (and so not to be dead). We are to worship our Creator and sing songs of our Redeemer. Verse 4 tells us the faithful ones sing praise to the LORD and his name. Verse 12 encourages us to let our hearts sing and not be silent, to praise our God forevermore.
The story of Jesus confirms that God’s purpose is not for us to die and become dust. Jesus’ death defeated all of our enemies–sin, death, and the grave. But more than that, his resurrection confirms the promise of our coming new life in the new creation when all will be raised. Because of this, we are called to rejoice and proclaim the good news! Thomas, though full of doubts and questions, upon seeing Jesus proclaimed, “My Lord! My God!” The two on the road to Emmaus started the day believing all hope was gone. But after walking with Jesus unaware and finally recognizing him as he broke the bread, they said to one another, didn’t our hearts burn as he spoke? They risked the dangers of traveling by night to return to Jerusalem in order to sing the good news of Jesus’ conquest of death to the disciples there. Each time we approach the table, we may come with doubts or questions, but together we celebrate the triumph of Jesus’ victory over death and rejoice in his sovereign rule of his kingdom at the Father’s right hand.
And so, as we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we remember both the death and the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. We celebrate his conquest of death and triumphal rising to everlasting life. We lay on the table all of our sorrows and discover anew the joy of Jesus’ promises and of his community of believers. Though we may approach the table in silence, we are forced to break that silence with proclamation of the good news and songs of praise to our Redeemer. At the table, we dedicate ourselves again as his Temple and consecrate ourselves to be servants to those in need and heralds of the good news.
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“Dedicating the Temple” Psalm 30
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