I can remember singing a simple little song when I was a child called “This is the Day”. It was one of those catchy tunes with all the echoes and repeats that were so popular in the folk music of the 1970s. We sang it in the round in Sunday School, and it went like this: “This is the day…this is the day, that The Lord has made…that the Lord has made. We will rejoice…we will rejoice, and be glad in it…and be glad in it. Oh this is the day that The Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it. This is the day…this is the day, that The Lord has made.” Such a great song to sing when you are young and feeling exuberant. When an entire weekend or summer day is stretched out before you. When life is sweet and all seems right with the world.
These words (without all the repeats!) are actually nestled right in the middle of Psalm 118, and these words, as well as the entirety of that psalm, have been read at every Passover celebration dating back to antiquity. The incredible thing is that Jesus would certainly have declared them himself as He concluded His final Passover meal with His disciples. Hours before He would be betrayed and ultimately be led to His crucifixion, He declared unwaveringly, “this is the day that the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it!”
Isn’t that mind-blowing? That Jesus could rejoice and be glad in the day of His crucifixion? That He would rejoice and be glad in the day of His complete abandonment and separation from His Father God?
I am amazed and humbled at the very thought of it. Trials have a way of weighing us down, don’t they? Ultimately, our prayer is that they draw us closer to God, but often, the trial-filled journey toward closer union with God is fraught with seasons of doubt, anger, exhaustion, and despair.
How do we live each day with the sure knowledge that “this is the day that the LORD has made”, and how do we then “rejoice and be glad in it”, especially if it seems the world is crashing down around us?
The psalmist begins by reminding himself of God’s goodness toward him. He repeats a refrain over and over again in the first 4 verses of Psalm 118: “For His lovingkindness is everlasting!” Lest he forget God’s kindness and His deep love for him, even in the face of adversity, he reminds his soul to trust, to rejoice, and to be strong.
The Bible is filled with language just like this. Saint Paul, who certainly was no stranger to hardship and adversity, instructs us, “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice!” Paul repeats himself in the same breath, lest we disregard the importance of learning how to rejoice in all situations, the good and the bad…or maybe Paul is simply reminding himself to rejoice in all things, just as the psalmist did.
The psalmist literally wills himself to rejoice. When our “bad day” becomes more of a crisis, it is crucial that we use our minds to remind ourselves what we know about God from scripture rather than focus on what we are perceiving with our senses to be true in a given situation. This is the only way to rejoice through a crisis.
When Jesus read this passage at His Last Supper with His disciples, He certainly knew it was His final hours on earth. This is a Psalm of prophecy in that it foretells the death of the Messiah. Imagine knowing you are the Messiah and reading these words just hours before your death by crucifixion: “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief corner stone…Bind the festival sacrifice with cords to the horn of the altar.” I don’t think I would feel very much like rejoicing! In fact I think I might skip dessert and run as fast as I could out of Jerusalem!
Jesus knew what was about to happen to Him, and yet, because He stood on the promises of God, He was able to tell His soul to rejoice. In this same psalm we read several such encouraging promises of God: “The LORD is for me; I will not fear; what can man do to me? The LORD is for me!” (v 6-7) “The right hand of the LORD does valiantly.” (v 15) “Give thanks to the LORD for He is good; for His lovingkindness is everlasting!” (v 29) Because Jesus knew these promises, He was able to rejoice and be glad in the day…even though it was a particularly difficult day. And we should do likewise.
I have been captivated by days that are so beautiful that I have wanted to live in them forever. And I have endured painful days that have tested me beyond what I think I am capable of managing. And perhaps like you, I have even suffered through days that have grown into years so replete with trials and tribulations that all I have wanted to do was to crawl back into bed, pull the covers over me, and not emerge until the storm has passed. It is in those days and in those seasons in particular that I wonder, “How can I embrace this day? How do I live joyfully even when all of my hopes are crumbling?”
There is no greater suffering than the separation from God the Father that Jesus endured on our behalf to win us victory over sin and death. This is how Jesus managed to find joy in the day of His greatest suffering: He found His strength in God His Father. In verse 14 the psalmist declares, “The LORD is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation!” Jesus had to endure that awful separation from God the Father as He suffered death and Hell for our sakes. But God did not leave Jesus in that state; He led Him through death and into resurrection life.
Whether in human terms we would define today as “good” or “bad”, every day we have the opportunity to choose to find joy and be glad, because of God’s great love for us, His immeasurable kindness toward us, and because the LORD is for us!