by Rev. Dr. Greg Wismar
Open to me the gates of righteousness.” Those words from Ps. 118:19 are deeply meaningful to our experience of the entire Christian year. Our life together in the year of the Church centers on Easter Sunday, the day of the Resurrection of our Lord. Each year, the last section of Psalm 118 is part of the Easter celebration, and God’s people rejoice in open doors.
“Open to me the gates of righteousness that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord.” The people of God have always sought out a special place to offer their thanksgiving and to call on the name of the Lord. The Psalmist may be speaking of the very gates of the temple as those that are to be opened, or perhaps the gates to be opened are those of the city of Jerusalem through which joyful pilgrims would pass on their way to celebrate the festivals of the Lord at His holy temple. Either way, the open gates were an invitation to the good things of God that were yet to be experienced.
The open gate is a fitting symbol for the month of January. It represents a new start to our experiences together in the house of the Lord.
The month of January is named for Janus, the traditional keeper of the door in Roman mythology. Janus supposedly had the special ability to look both to the past and to the future and to share the wisdom of that wider perspective. As we begin a new calendar year, we can look back, remembering the goodness of God to us in the past. But we can also look forward to the blessings yet to come.
Among those blessings are the times throughout the whole year when we gather with the people of God to worship. Through the centuries, hymn-writers have celebrated that setting where God’s people most fully rejoice in His presence.
The very first hymn in The Lutheran Hymnal was “Open now thy gates of beauty, Zion, let me enter there,” which echoes the excitement of the Psalmist. In more recent Synod hymnals, that hymn of joyful praise became hymn 198 in Lutheran Worship in 1982 and now is found as hymn 901 in the recently published Lutheran Service Book.
No matter where it is located in the hymnbook, its message of hopeful anticipation is unmistakable. God’s people celebrate that the doors are open where God can be found. They are glad to have the opportunity and the freedom to give praise to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and to receive the everlasting blessing on their lives that only God can provide. No matter what the exact doors may look like where you join with other believers in worship this year, they truly are gates of righteousness!
About the Author: Rev. Dr. Greg Wismar is pastor of christ the King Lutheran Church, Newtown, Conn.