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Psalm 126

Psalm 126 “It seemed like a dream, too good to be true, when God returned Zion’s exiles. We laughed, we sang, we couldn’t believe our good fortune. We were the talk of the nations: ‘God was wonderful to them!” God was wonderful to us; we are one happy people.’” – Psalm 126:1-3 (The Message) Psalm 126 is from a collection of psalms called “the Song of Ascents.” These are 15 psalms (120-134) that were most likely sung from memory as pilgrims “ascended” towards Jerusalem. This would have happened annually for the “Shalosh Regalim,” the three worship festivals detailed in Deuteronomy 16 (Passover, Pentecost, and Sukkot). In his book “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Eugene Peterson describes these psalms as “songs for the road”.[1] Indeed, these are songs for people on a journey, however they shouldn’t be confused with “road trip songs” — which are often annoying little tunes that help to pass time. These songs are different. For those traveling to Jerusalem for Shalosh Regalim, the journey was both literal and metaphorical. Jerusalem was the highest city geographically in Palestine, meaning that nearly anyone who made this trek experienced a quite literal “ascent”. The trip however, also acted as a metaphor, representing a pilgrimage into life with God. With every step and with every song, these physical motions represented a deeper story of the Christian life. This difference, between a symbolic journey and a merely physical one, is the contrast between pilgrimage and tourism. Pilgrims believe that the journey itself is deeper than its physical route. For tourists, the physical travel is simply a means to an end. The harmful assumption of this world is that anything worthwhile can be acquired instantly. In our digital age, we are prone to believe that God is more like a thunderbolt than a vine. We want God to move quickly and powerfully in our world and our lives, with no delay. Yet in my experience, this is rarely how God operates. God is slow. Steady and sure — more like a vine than a flash of lighting. So with every step, the pilgrims climbing towards Jerusalem were not only singing songs, but they were as Eugene Peterson describes, embodying a long obedience in the same direction. The Christian life is a call to faithfulness through all the seasons of our life. We are called to be Christ-followers, not just Christ-recognizers. With every step we take, we continue to live out what Paul was speaking of in Philippians 3:14, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus”. For many, the Book of Psalms is something like a devotional swiss army knife — a book that has something for nearly any situation in life. Many will read through its pages and find themselves saying, “Yes! That is how I feel”. Or even “I remember feeling that way”. However, passages like Song of Ascents take this one step further. Psalm 126 not only calls to memory the way God has been faithful in the past, but it invites us to ask for God’s direction in the present moment — for the journey we find ourselves in NOW. These are prayers for a journey, for actions, for progress. They are not to be said while sitting, they are to be prayed while walking. These are prayers that signify our intent to press on towards the goal. As Peterson believed, these Psalms were excellently described by William Faulkner, when he said, “They are not monuments, but footprints. A monument only says, ‘At least I got this far,’ while a footprint says, ’this is where I was when I moved again.’”[2] For anyone who feels stuck, at a stand still, lost or confused, may Psalm 126 provide worthy inspiration — a prayer for people ready for life to start up again. And now, God, do it again—bring rains to our drought-stricken lives. So those who planted their crops in despair will shout hurrahs at the harvest, So those who went off with heavy heartswill come home laughing, with armloads of blessing.” – Psalm 126:4-6 (The Message) [1] Eugene H. Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 7. [2] Ibid., 22.