Tonight, I write on a topic that I find myself circling around quite a bit: writer’s block.
During one of three pilgrimages to Jerusalem, Israelite worshippers would most likely have sung a long series of Psalms, the Psalms of Ascent. Levite worshipers might have also sung these songs as they ascended into the Temple of Yahweh as they prepared to do their work (Liebrich, 55).
Either way, these psalms were sung during celebrations, or times of moving. Times when the worshiper felt themselves physically moving closer to God. Psalm 126 starts with a reminder of Yahweh’s past blessings upon the nation. When Yahweh had restored their fortunes, they were like ones who dreamed; they laughed and they shouted for joy; they proclaimed the goodness of Yahweh to the nations, to anybody who would listen. Yahweh had done great things for them, so they were glad.
“Yahweh has done great things for them.”
In shorthand, these verses would have called to mind Yahweh’s covenant faithfulness to the people of Israel. They would remember his creation. They would remember their exodus from Egypt. They would remember taking Canaan. They would eventually remember being restored to their land again, after the exile.
But take note: they. They would remember because they would remind each other. If someone forgot Yahweh’s goodness, or doubted, or didn’t feel like worshiping, others would do it for him. In this song, they would call each other to remember what Yahweh has done for them. They would remind each other of the joy that Yahweh had given them. The time of pilgrimage was a time to remind each other of Yahweh’s goodness.
Do we have that? If I struggle, in which ways do I feel like my community calls Yahweh’s goodness to mind? Do I actively sing about the times I’ve felt God’s joy in my heart? Do I know enough about my friends to remind them of specific examples of God’s grace?
Sometimes, I worry that I don’t have that or do that. The Israelites worried, too. They collectively faced a time of great sadness. At points, it would have been the exile. At others, the oppression of nations who did not want the temple rebuilt. At times, it was the absence of Yahweh. “Restore our fortunes, Yahweh, like the streams in Negeb!”
But their song doesn’t start there. In fact, while it seems like Psalm comes out of a time of communal lament, it only warrants a single verse in the song. Every one is suffering, but unlike many psalms, the cause of the suffering isn’t noted. Instead, they chose to focus on Yahweh’s provision and the past ways in which he has made them happy.
And because they knew that he was faithful in the past, Israel was confident that Yahweh would be faithful in the future. “Those who go out with weeping, bearing the seed of sorrow, shall come back laughing.”
Again, these psalms, sung in community, aren’t merely for personal edification. Singing this psalm in community would create a communal hope. Those especially suffering, or those who can’t or won’t believe, are forced to come into contact with Yahweh’s goodness and the hope he provides. Notice that the hope for the future is not conditional; no, it will be the case that those who weep WILL laugh.
So, can we do this? Can we be a community who sings Psalms together? Can we be the community who believes for each other? Those who call each other to faith? Those who force others to hear good news? For my sake, I hope we can. And, for your sakes, I hope I can contribute.