This is the first part of a sermon; the sermon was itself the first in a series preached on the Psalms Of Ascents (120-134). I’ll post the rest of the sermon – on Psalm 120 – in the next few days.
None of us really welcome pain, but we know it’s as much part of our lives as celebration, fun, boredom, grief, celebration, sport and taxes. If we stop for a moment to consider that we all chart a course through a life which contains all of these and much, much more then it’s a wonder that more of us don’t go a little mad. A roller-coaster such as this is bound to make a few of us feel a little queasy.
A little group of Psalms – 120 through to 134 – provide a helpful tool for navigating a landscape as varied as this. They were either written for or adopted by people who were on the way to Jerusalem to worship. That was a physical journey which went up – hence the title we now have for this group of Psalms: the Psalms of Ascents. As God’s people made the journey up to Jerusalem, they would have read, meditated on, prayed and sung these Psalms as a way of preparing themselves for whichever of the three major worship festivals they were heading for. These hymns and prayers and poems provided a means for the traveller to reflect on the life of the individual and the wider community; a way of looking back in both thankfulness and repentance over what had been in order to prepare the traveller for what was to come. It was a literal, physical journey to an actual place – the temple in Jerusalem.
Since then these Psalms have acquired a deeper resonance – a way for anyone who seeks to follow the the God of Abraham, Moses, David and Jesus to reflect on what that God has been doing in the life of the individual and of his or her community, as well as a preparation for what lies ahead in that journey. The destination of this journey is the new Jerusalem, the heavenly city, the kingdom that is now and not yet finally and fully realised. As we travel, we reflect – and this gives us energy for whatever lies ahead.
The Psalms are rich, fertile ground for the seasoned traveller. It can feel like a well-worn cliche to suggest that all of lies within, but that’s no less potent for the repetition. As such there’s much great writing on these prayers. The very best on these Psalms Of Ascents is probably Eugene Peterson’s A Long Obedience In The Same Direction. There’s a short chapter on each Psalm which mines rich, deep truth in accessible and beautiful prose. You’d be much better served reading that than reading my reflections. Anything I draw from these Psalms is more than likely refracted through Peterson’s lens.
So, over the next few weeks a journey through these Psalms lies ahead of us. Read them, and reflect on them with me. We’ll start at the beginning, with the slowly dawning realisation that all with me and the world is not as it should be.
I’ll post an adaption of my preached reflection on Psalm 12o later this week. This post is adapted from the notes of a sermon I preached at St Peter’s, Mowbray, Cape Town on Sunday 2nd June 2013. It’s not an exact text of the sermon as I don’t preach from a full text.