Over the past several months I have been working through a collection of psalms in the Old Testament’s book of Psalms called the Songs of Ascent (Psalms 120-134). This collection of songs is believed to have been sung by pilgrims as they traveled to Jerusalem for the great Jewish festivals.
The Songs of Ascent are more than a collection of songs, they are a geography of the pilgrim’s walk of faith to God. In these psalms we hear about the pitfalls and dangers as well as the necessary encouragement and motivation to make and finish such a journey.
Psalm 132 is the longest of the Songs of Ascent and speaks to us of what is needed to make the last push to the finish. A journey of 100 miles can just as easily be forsaken in the last mile and is all the more pitiable when that journey is given up within sight of the finish. I know that pitifulness.
Psalm 132 reminds the pilgrim that the journey which they are making, this last climb through Judea up to Jerusalem, was one which the Lord has made too if only symbolically through the presence of the ark of the covenant. David vowed to bring the ark to a resting place among the people of God in Jerusalem; this is the destination of the Old Testament pilgrim: the Temple which housed the ark.
As the psalm reminds us of the vow which David made, the search for the ark which had fallen into obscurity, David’s desire to see the Lord’s worship honored even as he danced among the procession, and the promise which the Lord made to David and his descendants, we are reminded of the reward of faithful obedience.
For the pilgrim on pilgrimage, the joy at the end is not that the journey is over. The pilgrim’s joy breaks into view when they see that the God whom they have sought and pursued has, in fact, come to them.
This sonnet imagines the pilgrimage of one who, like the psalmist of Psalm 120, has come to his senses and gone to God. However, the dangers of pilgrimage waylay him near the finish. Remembering the kindnesses shown and the hope of fulfillment, he is persuaded to “arise”. The prodigal pilgrim makes the final push to the finish to find that “while he was still a long way off his father…”.
If it’s helpful, you may listen to me read the sonnet via the player below.
Here at the finish, the way is steep;
Having come so far, the end now in sight;
The vows made at dawn, when refreshed by sleep,
Seem cynically foolish in the fading light.
Lost in worries weeds, the tangle of cares
Trip me with cries to forget the vow,
Tempt me with lies by which comfort ensnares,
Falling, I slip into despondency’s slough.
A call to arise calls me from the end
And recalls to mind the kind offers made;
I stand, and stumbling, the last hill ascend
To behold the blessing for which I’d prayed.
The fullness sought in leaving now I see:
The father whom I left, running to me.
© Randall Edwards 2017
This sonnet is for Christ’s church. If it is helpful, please feel free to copy or reprint in church bulletins, read aloud, or repost. I only ask that an attribution be cited to myself (Randall Edwards) and this blog (backwardmutters.com). Thanks.
artwork: detail from an illustration of The Pilgrim’s Progress or Christian’s journey form the City of Destruction in this evil World to the Celestial City; Published July 1, 1813 by J. Pitts No 14 Great St Andrews Street Seven Dials.