I must acknowledge that last Sunday, Easter Sunday, was not what I had hoped or expected. Although we experienced a few glitches in our first Zoom meeting together, that is not what I’m referring to.
Last Sunday did not go as I had imagined because there is so much uncertainty in our world right now. When I began thinking and praying about Easter and developing plans for what the day would look like, a Zoom meeting was not what I had in mind.
I imagine that Easter was not what any of us expected. Not much of any of our lives is probably going as we anticipated. And unfortunately, we do not have any idea when life will begin to look like we thought it would. The only thing we can be certain of for the near future is…uncertainty.
Uncertainty was a major part of the first Easter story in the New Testament. The followers of Jesus experienced uncertainty for Jesus and themselves as they watched/witnessed/heard about Jesus’ trial, physical abuse, execution on a cross, and placement in a tomb. They were even more uncertain when they found that tomb empty.
A clear component of the Easter story was the challenge the disciples experienced in not knowing what was next.
Psalm 16, a Psalm that, in the past, was believed to have been a prediction of Jesus’ resurrection, also addressed the challenge of uncertainty, but in a way that we usually would not expect.
In general, there are two types of psalms in the Bible: Psalms of lament where a writer pleads with God for help with a negative situation they are experiencing and Psalms of confidence/faith where a writer celebrates God’s actions on their behalf. Psalm 16 is one of confidence and faith.
The writer of Psalm 16 celebrates the fact that their life was good because of all that God had done for them. The writer provides a laundry list of praise by saying, “God, you provide protection, good things, joy, fellowship (with other believers), true worship (I don’t worship false gods), hope, positive spiritual life (because I worship You, the one true God), and peace.”
The writer states that because of the multiple examples of God’s faithfulness, they could trust that things would work out for them in the future. They can trust that God will remain faithful to them even when life/their future looks uncertain. I get this idea from what the writer said in verses 10 and 11. In verse 11, the writer said, “I am your chosen one. You won’t leave me in the grave or let my body decay.”
In many ways, the idea of death and the afterlife was the most uncertain idea that the Hebrew people faced daily. Their concept of death and the afterlife was not as fully formed as ours is in the 21st Century.
They did not have the concept of dying and going to heaven to be with God, as we do. Instead, they held to a not fully formed concept that when a person died, their soul either ceased to exist or it went to the grave/Sheol/the Pit.
The grave/Sheol/the Pit was believed to be a place of darkness where souls resided. No one knew how long souls resided there. Some thought it would be temporary, while others thought it was for eternity. Some thought that every soul went there, while others thought that only bad people’s souls ended up there.
This various ideas about death and the afterlife were some of the key ideas that eventually separated the Pharisees and the Sadducees in the New Testament. We see this in how each group interacted with Jesus around the question of life and death.
Again, death was one of the most, if not the most, uncertain things facing the writer of Psalm 16. Yet, the writer said that because God had been faithful in consistently protecting them, they could trust that God would protect them even in death.
“When I die, you will not leave me in the grave. Instead, I believe that you will continue to personally guide me and protect me. Instead of being alone in the grave/Sheol/the Pit, I will be with you wherever you are. Although my future may be uncertain, there is something I am certain of. I am certain that you will continue to be faithful to me and that you will continue to be with me and protect me. Even in the afterlife.”
Of the psalmist’s confidence in God, Dr. J. Clinton McCann writes, “Security (certainty) for the psalmist is not an achievement but a result of a life entrusted to God.”
So far, our Easter season has been overshadowed by the uncertainty caused by multiple things. COVID-19 has cast a large shadow over all of us. Some of us are worried about the physical and mental health of loved ones. Some of us are kept awake at night by concerns about employment. Some of us are fearful about other things that we will not mention out loud. This year has been filled with a clear level of uncertainty for all of us.
My prayer for all of us is that we would remember the hope that we have in common with the writer of Psalm 16. That God has been faithful before, and because of that, we can trust that God will continue to be faithful to us, even though we do not know what’s next for our lives.
God has not left us. God will not leave us. God has provided good things for us. God will continue to provide good things for us. These provisions are not based our actions but on God’s faithful love that was exemplified in the life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of our savior, Jesus. I pray that we all will continue to hold on to the hope and peace that comes with claiming Jesus as our savior. Amen.