Text: Isaiah 12:1-6
(v. 1) You will say in that day: I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, and you comforted me. (v. 2) Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the Lord God is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation. (v. 3) With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. (v. 4) And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted. (v. 5) Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth. (v. 6) Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.
This brief chapter of the book of the prophet Isaiah is a song of praise. Reminiscent of a Davidic psalm, this composition heralds the prospect of a reunited people, a “new Jerusalem,” and new world order. It points to the future Church and Kingdom redeemed and ruled by the righteous Messiah who will judge and save.
It speaks of a personal deliverance expressed in collective salvation. The content of the song is, therefore, spiritual and political. The song begins with acknowledgement of the exile experience as evidence of judgment. A post-exilic remnant seeks redemption in spite of spiritual and physical separation. They also seek a political-economic restoration that attends a restored kingdom. Consequently, the preeminent grace of God’s salvation wins out and is worthy of thanksgiving praise.
As with many psalms set for worship, this song of praise evokes physical expressions that demonstrate the meaning of the sentiment “to give thanks.” The Hebrew word for praise employed here is yadah, which signifies the stretching out of one’s hands in thanks while singing. It is a confession of utter dependence upon God for the inferred gift, namely God’s deliverance. A people who were once scattered and symbolically disconnected from their God are now reunited, and thus reconnected to the One who has created them. There is an eschatological hope that has been fulfilled “in that day.”
Their profound longings for “home” are now met in a glorious family reunion made possible by a God who promised not to forsake them. More importantly, they can bow before their true King without inhibition or recrimination. They can now wave their hands in joyous gratitude, for three essential reasons: God remembers, God redeems and God restores.
First of all, God remembers. Verse one states: “You will say in that day: I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, and you comforted me.” The original meaning of remembrance is “to re-member” or recollect. In other words, what was once literally and figuratively detached and incoherent is now connected and coherent.
One of the most egregious offenses that any Hebrew could commit was to forget who God was and what God has done. Likewise, the worst tragedy that any Hebrew could experience was for God to forget them. God’s wrath and judgment on a people resulted in a lack of memory of them, i.e. their abandonment and alienation from God and one another. Likewise, our African ancestors’ ultimate act of honor was to “keep alive” the saints in living memory. One is “forgotten” when their name and legacy are no longer mentioned. The fact that the remnant, once displaced and disconnected, has been re-collected is reason to give thanks.
It should also be noted that an act of remembrance can be a profoundly political act. There is a kind of “anamnestic solidarity,”1 to use Archie Smith’s term, in a communal worship that recounts their common past and collective salvation.
Black worship is a type of liturgical anamnesis, the opposite of amnesia. Anamnesis means “to recollect the forgotten past and to participate in a common memory and a common hope.”2 Authentic corporate worship takes seriously the scripture, “Where two or three are gathered in my Name, I am in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20)
Christ becomes fully present as both redeemer and liberator. James H. White discusses anamnesis as an objective of the Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper, “No single English word conveys its full meaning; remembrance, recalling, representation, experiencing are all weak approximations.
Anamnesis expresses the sense that in repeating these actions one experiences once again the reality of Jesus himself present.”3 This certainly characterizes the spirit of the sentiment that an African American congregation has not “had church” until the presence of Jesus is felt in the house. Consequently, Thanksgiving is about “re-membering” who we are and whose we are. It is a defining feature of black worship that serves a psycho-social purpose in liberation and salvation. This enables black folk to shout, “Thank you!” in spite of receiving unmerited suffering, historically and presently. We remember to give thanks because God remembers us.
Second, God redeems. Verses 2-3 state: “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the Lord God is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation. With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” Every Hebrew embodied a sacred identity derived from their relationship to God. Separation from God resulted in a fractured identity. Before one could be restored, one had to be redeemed, and only God could redeem an alienated people.
Ed Wimberly describes redemption through John Wesley’s “therapeutic soteriology,”4 a key component of the evangelical enterprise that Africans in America first understood about the Gospel, as it was re-presented to an oppressed people. Sin, personal and social, separated individuals and communities from God. In the ancient worldview, to be disconnected from God is to not be a person.
A people who have been redeemed have a reason to give thanks: God has redeemed their privilege as a child of God and as a member of the redeemed community. I can sing, “I am redeemed, bought with a price. Jesus has changed my whole life. If anybody asks you, just who I am, tell them, I am redeemed.” (Jesse Dixon and the Chicago Community Choir)
Finally, God restores. Verses 4-6 state: “Among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth. Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” This second “stanza” of the hymn signals a crescendo of appreciation for being redeemed and restored to privileged status as “royal Zion.”
The people of God are reminded to consider their present favor in light of their former plight. They have been restored, in the way that the book of I Peter asserts: “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, his own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.” (I Peter 2:9-10). This is what the saints had in mind when they sang, “When I think of the goodness of Jesus and all he has done for me. My soul sings ‘hallelujah.’ I thank God for saving me!”
And so Mt. Olive, God is our redeemer and the one who restores us. God wants us to remember his acts of mercy and kindness by giving him thanks. God wants us to appreciate just how far he has brought us.
He has brought us from slavery to emancipation, from emancipation to liberation, from liberation to freedom. God has brought us from the outhouse to the white house. That’s the kind of God we serve; I know I’m right about it.
And this redemption, this restoration is not a singular event. Every time I turn around, God keeps on blessing me. I don’t know about you, but God picked me up this week. God lit a fire under me and caused me to get up from my chair of depression and put on me a garment of hope. God caused me to see beyond my suffering into his divine plan for my life. And I can truly say, thank you.
Thank you Lord for all you’ve done and continue to do for me. Thank you Father for continuing to forgive me, bless me, and defend me. Thank you Father for making a way out of no way. Thank you Father for blessing me when I didn’t deserve a blessing; thank you Father for picking me up out of the miry clay and planting my feet on a rock to stay. Hallelujah! Hallelujah to your name. Praise be unto our God and His Christ. I thank you Lord for this great salvation!