Psalm 136:1 – Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His love endures forever. (NIV)
While reading Psalm 136 to my autistic son, I could not help notice the surprised look on his face. At that moment, I realized how pleasantly this psalm must have resonated in his mind with the constant repetition of the phrase "His love endures forever." Like many individuals with autism, a major part of my son's disability is related to significant language deficits. Though he is verbal, his speech is often very repetitive. For example, he frequently asks the same question numerous times; so I remind him that my answer is the same as it was a second ago. But in light of Psalm 136, the constant repetition and retelling of God's awesome deeds throughout history serves as a meaningful act of worship. Therefore, this psalm presented a great opportunity to teach my son about God and engage him in a responsive reading of Scripture.
In Jewish tradition, Psalm 136 is called "The Great Hallel" and is usually associated with Passover. The beautiful symmetry of lyrics states no less than twenty-six times: "His love endures forever." It is uniquely designed as a litany hymn of praise to be used collectively by members of the congregation. This type of worship is referred to as antiphonal psalmody involving a leader and a group who interact with each other in statement and response. Furthermore, it is quite possible that this psalm was sung by our Lord during the course of the Passover celebration (as recorded in Matthew 26:30). I can imagine Jesus leading His disciples in a lovely chorus echoing back and forth praise to God.
In researching the details of responsive worship, I came across an interesting story about an early church father, Athanasius, who was pastor of a church in Alexandria, Egypt. Athanasius was known for his fight to defend the church against heresy, mainly from those who discredited the divinity of our Lord. On one particular occasion, it is said that he led an all-night prayer vigil while his enemies surrounded the building. Seeing that his congregation was in distress, with a calm voice, he led the singing of Psalm 136. He remained calm until all congregants had dispersed safely to their homes, after which he, too, found refuge among friends.
Reflecting on this story and the many blessings of Psalm 136, I realize that constant repeating of the phrase "His love endures forever" provides a sense of security and reassurance of faith. In that respect, I suppose repetition has the same calming affect for my son, who seems to find comfort in hearing my response. Thus, through my experience, I believe that Psalm 136 can enrich our faith by serving as a profound reminder to trust in God's steadfast love as He in turn fills our hearts with praise.
Prayer: Almighty God, we humbly bow before Your throne, giving thanks for Your awesome power, enduring love, and redeeming grace. Accept the sacrifices of our hearts, and bless all who worship You with peace. May our hymns of praise bring glory to You in heaven and on earth as we honour Your name together, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
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