Psalm 98

O sing to the Lord a new song,
    for God has done marvelous things.
God’s right hand and God’s holy arm
    have given God victory.
The Lord has made known God’s victory;
    God has revealed God’s vindication in the sight of the nations.
God has remembered God’s steadfast love and faithfulness
    to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
    the victory of our God.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
    break forth into joyous song and sing praises.
Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
    with the lyre and the sound of melody.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
    make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord.

Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
    the world and those who live in it.
Let the floods clap their hands;
    let the hills sing together for joy
at the presence of the Lord, for God is coming
    to judge the earth.
God will judge the world with righteousness,
    and the peoples with equity.

Rev. Rebecca Heilman
(Psalm 98)

Evan Hansen never takes a friend for granted because his friends are far and few between. This young high school boy’s story is told through the Broadway production of Dear Evan Hansen. Evan suffers from extreme social anxiety disorder, yearning to make a connection with his schoolmates, but not knowing how. He dreams of having a buddy, someone to share his days with. Someone to help him up when he falls, someone to bike with, someone to learn to sail with. He wants a friend. And so after a classmate dies, somehow, Evan, in all clumsiness, gets tied up in the center of that chaos and pretends he is good friends with that classmate. He imagines their friendship together, making up their days and the emotion they have towards each other. And then without meaning to, he finds himself the unintended face of a viral video about loneliness and friendship. Because if there is anyone who understands loneliness, it’s Evan, and if there is anyone who longs for friendship, it’s Evan. He sings:

Have you ever felt like nobody was there?
Have you ever felt forgotten in the middle of nowhere?
Have you ever felt like you could disappear?
Like you could fall, and no one would hear?

Well, let that lonely feeling wash away
Maybe there’s a reason to believe you’ll be okay
‘Cause when you don’t feel strong enough to stand
You can reach, reach out your hand[1]

In both emotion and understanding, Evan speaks of the darkness often found in loneliness and the effort it takes to reach out to a friend. He invites us not to take friendship for granted, ever. He invites us into community, just like our Psalmist today. If there was ever a time that we understand this invitation, it’s now. It’s now as we emerge out of a long season of being apart from good friends and family. It’s now as our chaos is slowly put back to some sort of order. We might wonder how we can sing a new song as the Psalmist asks us,when there is so much that has been and needs to be rewritten.

Our Psalm today is nothing less than a Psalm of praise. And it’s a Psalm of praise because the people who are singing this Psalm have escaped some sort of turmoil, something that disrupted their lifestyle, their order, their understanding of life as they knew it to be. Some scholars say the trauma of the Babylonian exile has tumbled into this Psalm, since it speaks of victories and kingship of God.[2] Others say that it speaks of generational trauma since it has language around deliverance in the Exodus and the wilderness.[3]  Still others don’t give a reason why, but that the singers are in some sort of new situation and so they praise God with a new song.[4] Something was being written in their lives. There was something new and lots of change.

Not unlike the change we’ve been experiencing all year. I won’t summarize it too much since goodness knows you lived through it all this year. Our lives were unhinged. One week we were in groups of people, the next week, we were locked indoors. We were told new regulation after new regulation to keep each other safe. And now those regulations are the new norm and for some of us, it’s hard to let go of these new norms just yet. Children were kept at home, all day every day. YOU were kept at home, all day every day. Of course, loneliness crept in. And we were expected to pivot and then pivot again, and again, and again. Not unlike the songwriters in this Psalm. Just as their order was shifted into chaos, so was ours. Just as they went through pivot after pivot into change and then a slow shift into newness, so are we. Just as they looked to God to put everything back into order, so do we. This pandemic took more out of us than we gave permission. And finally with this vaccine, hope is on the horizon. It’s just in the distance. Praise is on the tips of our tongues! Beloved, God is writing a new song in our lives. A new song that we are and have been composing with God this year. The song is not complete just yet. We’re still processing all that was piled onto our souls – whether it be a loss of a loved one, mental health concerns, the original sin of this nation, love for the other, or not taking each other for granted ever again. We long to finish this new song that will be ingrained in our new post-pandemic lives, but those haunting quarantine tunes of our past run through our heads. We long to make a joyful noise but feel the tension between excitement and the caution we’ve developed into a careful habit. No, the song is not complete yet, but we are composing and rewriting, learning the melody and creating the harmony. We are teaching this song to our children so they might clap with joy. We are learning the steps to the dance that will sing alleluia. We are circling back, editing, and rereading the composition of this new song. Some days it will dreadful and other days the hope will shine through. The song isn’t complete just yet, but we are getting there, hope is on the tip of our tongue.

As we’ve all learned over these difficult months of social distancing, staying connected – being “together for joy” as the Psalmist tells us, has only become more important and something we don’t take for granted. I don’t mean that joy is only found when we are together, what I mean is we’ve adapted to keep us as close as we can from a safe distance to sustain joy and hope. We’ve adapted to keep each other, our children, and our beloved elders safe to sustain our joy and hope. We’ve adapted and worked at this song all year long – working towards “together with joy” to sustain our joy and hope. And though the challenges have been real, so are the opportunities to compose with God for God has done – and will do – marvelous, marvelous things.

Barbara Brown Taylor sat down with Kiran Young Wimberly, a PCUSA pastor, on the podcast Psalms for the Spirit to specifically talk about the Psalms during this dark time. They touch on the topic of resilience, emphasizing that when we are at our worst or even at our best, the Psalms point to resilience and community. The Psalms tell us that there are those who come before us and those will come after us. That the Psalms are a chorus, a choir, a heavenly ensemble, reminding us that we are not alone in this. That there have been others throughout our faith who sing to Lord. That even creation claps its hands and sing together for joy. The Psalms invite us into community, writing new songs with God, looking towards that newness and sustaining our joy and hope.[5]

Our friend, Evan Hansen knew something about this. He continues in his unintended viral speech, reminding all and inviting all into community.

Even when the dark comes crashing through
When you need a friend to carry you
And when you’re broken on the ground
You will be found
So let the sun come streaming in
‘Cause you’ll reach up and you’ll rise again
Lift your head and look around
You will be found.

Out of the shadows
The morning is breaking
And all is new, all is new
It’s filling up the empty
And suddenly I see that
All is new, all is new.[6]

Beloved, sing to the Lord a new song and when that song is complete, know that God has done and will do marvelous things.

[1] Ben Platt, Laura Dreyfuss, Kristolyn Lloyd, Will Roland and the Original Broadway Cast of Dear Evan Hansen, “You Will Be Found,” Dear Evan Hansen, 2017.

[2] J. Clinton McCann, Jr., The Book of Psalms: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), 1072.  

[3] Walter Brueggemann and William H. Bellinger, Jr., Psalms, (New York: New Cambridge Bible Commentary, 2014), 421.

[4] James L. Mays, Psalms: Interpretation A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1994), 313.

[5] Kiran Young Wimberly, “Leaning into the Cycles of Darkness and Light, with Barbara Brown Taylor,” Psalms for the Spirit, Podcast audio, April 4, 2021.

[6] Dear Evan Hansen, 2017.