I am continuing my current project of writing a series of poems based on the Songs of Ascent (Psalms 120-134). The Songs of Ascent are a collection of songs intended to guide the pilgrim in their upward ascent to God. They are traveling songs meant to encourage, challenge, and console the singer and listener. They are a map of the life of faith.
Psalm 133 is the second to last of the songs, and it sings the song of fellowship and community. If one recalls, the first of the Songs of Ascent (Psalm 120) is about the disappointment and disfunction of community, but now at the end we are rejoicing in it. The irony may feel more deep because this psalm is attributed to David. And though there was a point when the people of Israel were joyfully united under King David, much disappointment and tragedy would follow in the stories Uriah and Bathsheba, Amnon and Tamar, and David and his son, Absalom.
Psalm 133 is willfully ignorant of these events or wisely instructive about true community. It reads,
1 Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!
2 It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes!
3 It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the LORD has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.
Nothing here of disappointment, just the beauty and goodness and pleasantness of unity — which of course, is beautiful and good and lovely. It is precisely the failure to experience this sort of community which leads to such great disappointment.
A part of the psalm’s encouragement to us, is that just like everything else, if we are to arrive at our destination, we must have faith. We must believe that God is and can do what he has promised. He will make his people one. (Talk about needing faith). In addition, the psalmist reminds us that this sort of community is not the result of contrivance and manipulation, it is the fruit of God’s provision and blessing (comes down). The unity of love is a “bond of faith” and what binds us, is the atonement which God has made possible through his high priest. Just as our “at-one-ment” is made with God, it settles everything else between us and our fellows. It pours down from above and out upon others. In arriving into God’s presence, His promise is that we will arrive together.
As for this sonnet, I begin by imaging all the sorts of people God’s people are and all the names by which we tag others and ourselves. Only when our identity is identified with the one “who brings peace” are we freed from those other names so as to bear and share in his beloved name.
If it’s helpful, you may listen to me read the sonnet via the player below:
Bless our hearts, people pleasers, control freaks,
Sloppy, extroverts, neatniks, jocks, and nerds,
Authentic hipsters, awkward introverts,
Are Your peculiar people, in other words.
The defiant and stubborn, the weepy,
Stoics, passionate, patient, short-tempered,
The fringe, those keeping it weird and creepy,
They make up Your flock, us odd, little birds.
Whether Peter, Paul, Apollos, or James,
We are members of one congregation;
No matter the labels, whatever the names,
We’re bound by the Name who is salvation,
Who pours out, by our new name addresses,
Drenches in love, makes holy, and blesses.
© 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.