Sixth Sunday of Easter

The sixth Sunday of Easter may feel a bit like the twelfth day of Christmas — officially still in the zone but, practically speaking, most people have moved on.

Gustav Klimt, Nine Drawings for the Execution of a Frieze
Gustav Klimt, Nine Drawings for the Execution of a Frieze..., MAK (Museum of Applied Arts), Vienna. Image by Kotomi_ via Flickr licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

May 5, 2013

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Commentary on Psalm 67

The sixth Sunday of Easter may feel a bit like the twelfth day of Christmas — officially still in the zone but, practically speaking, most people have moved on.

All the presents have been opened: preachers have proclaimed the Easter story, the most familiar Easter songs have been sung, the lilies have either wilted or been taken home. What better time, then, to try preaching from the Psalms! Psalm 67 offers a strong framework for building a late-season Easter sermon. It has at least two solid themes to choose from, and pairs well with either the Acts or the Revelation texts appointed for Easter 6.

Psalm 67 asks for “a blessing that will make the Lord’s way known among all peoples of the earth,”[1] writes biblical scholar James Luther Mays. Surely that prayer is answered in the Resurrection of Christ! As a step toward using Psalm 67 for Easter preaching, we will first look at it as a freestanding text.

We get to eat dessert first in Psalm 67. The Psalmist serves up the benediction right away instead of saving it till the end: “May God be gracious to us and bless us, and make his face to shine upon us.” (67:1, many have noted, echoes Numbers 6:24-26). A benediction is “a word wishing someone well,” writes James Limburg.[2] That well-wishing is not only for the faithful few, but for “all nations.” The blessing is signature, God’s way of communicating “saving power” to “all nations” (67:2). The outcome: “all the peoples” praise God (67:3). God’s blessing spreads far and wide, overflowing all boundaries.

The Psalm is global. Its invitation is universal, resounding in verse 3 and again in 5. “Let the people praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.” Verse 4 asks “the nations” to “be glad and sing for joy.” Imagine being in a huge concert hall where massed choirs are singing from every side. The nations sing for joy because God judges the people with equity and guides the nations of earth. Everyone comes to the festival because God works in the history of all nations.[3]

Near the end of the Psalm, the reason for thanksgiving shifts to a harvest theme. “The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God has blessed us” (67:6). This has led some scholars to describe this Psalm as a thanksgiving for harvest, and it certainly can be used for that specific purpose. But it ends with a more general prayer for God’s continued blessing on the worshippers (that’s “us”) and for “all the ends of the earth” to revere God (67:7).

The theology of the Psalm works like this: God’s blessing comes to Abraham and through him to all the families of Earth. Israel’s salvation becomes a revelation to all nations. In the Psalm the nations come to know “the Lord’s way” as savior (67:2). God’s way of saving reveals who God is. We apply this to Christianity, for as James Luther Mays says, “the blessing of the church is for the salvation of the nations.” [4] God’s blessing, God’s saving mercies are not for a small group of insiders, but for all the peoples of earth. Therefore, the Psalm speaks to both the identity of God’s people and to their mission.

When used on the sixth Sunday of Easter, whether as the main preaching text or a supporting text, Psalm 67 works well for preaching. It declares that God’s blessing — and there is no blessing greater than Easter — is for all people. Church folk might be tempted at this particular time of year to feel deflated if the Easter crowd has drifted away. Psalm 67 does not go there. It imparts joy and prompts us to spread the Easter message everywhere.

Easter reveals “the Lord’s way as savior” and that “way” leads through death to resurrection, through darkness to light for the entire world. Psalm 67 reminds us that God’s blessing is moving throughout the world to embrace “the nations” and “the peoples” of earth. Christianity is growing in parts of Africa and Asia, and closer to home it is not only for “us” in the church but for all the “nones” who say they have no religion.

The “all nations” theme comes up in Acts 16:9-15, the first lesson for the Sixth Sunday of Easter. Here Paul and friends travel in what is now western Turkey, spreading the Gospel in several towns. Paul baptizes Lydia, “a worshipper of God” and her family. We are told that “the Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul” (Acts 16:14), and she opened her home for Paul and his companions.

The harvest theme from Psalm 67:6 also works well with Easter. The earth has indeed yielded its increase: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). Christ is called the firstborn or first fruits of the dead in 1 Corinthians 15:20, Colossians 1:18; Revelation 1:5 for, as Christ has been raised, we too shall be raised. This blessing is free to all who embrace it by faith, so that the whole world may “be glad and sing for joy.”

In the texts appointed for the sixth Sunday of Easter, Revelation 22:2 speaks of the tree of life yielding twelve kinds of fruit “and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” Here are the nations, and here is the harvest, and here is the life and the healing that the risen Christ brings.
Psalm 67 invites us to “be glad and sing for joy.” Hymns that work well with the Psalm include
“Christ is Alive! Let Christians Sing” ELW 389
“In Christ There is No East or West” ELW 650
“Now the Green Blade Rises” ELW 379

1James Luther Mays, Psalms (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1994), 224.

2James Limburg, Psalms, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2000), 221.

3Ibid., 222.

4Mays, Psalms, 225.