what pilgrims remember

The LORD Has Chosen Zion
A Song of Ascents. Psalm 132.

Remember, O LORD, in David’s favor,
all the hardships he endured,
2 how he swore to the LORD
and vowed to the Mighty One of Jacob,
3 “I will not enter my house
or get into my bed,
4 I will not give sleep to my eyes
or slumber to my eyelids,
5until I find a place for the LORD,
a dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob.”

6Behold, we heard of it in Ephrathah;
we found it in the fields of Jaar.
7“Let us go to his dwelling place;
let us worship at his footstool!”

8Arise, O LORD, and go to your resting place,
you and the ark of your might.
9Let your priests be clothed with righteousness,
and let your saints shout for joy.
10For the sake of your servant David,
do not turn away the face of your anointed one.

11The LORD swore to David a sure oath
from which he will not turn back:
“One of the sons of your body
I will set on your throne.
12 If your sons keep my covenant
and my testimonies that I shall teach them,
their sons also forever
shall sit on your throne.”

13For the LORD has chosen Zion;
he has desired it for his dwelling place:
14“This is my resting place forever;
here I will dwell, for I have desired it.
15I will abundantly bless her provisions;
I will satisfy her poor with bread.
16Her priests I will clothe with salvation,
and her saints will shout for joy.
17There I will make a horn to sprout for David;
I have prepared a lamp for my anointed.
18His enemies I will clothe with shame,
but on him his crown will shine.”

On a trek, or on a pilgrimage for that matter, you have lots of time to remember. While trekking in Nepal, for example, I remembered having hot water. I remembered planning the trip with Katie, and thinking about how different it was than we had imagined, more difficult and more amazing. I remembered what I had told the students to prepare them, and how adequate, or in some cases inadequate, my preparation had been. I remembered other mountains we had climbed, hills by comparison. But I think you always remember promises made and promises kept.

On their climb to Jerusalem the Hebrew pilgrims remembered many things, some of them personal, but as most of these Psalms have suggested, many more corporate in their meaning and significance. In a collectivistic cultural like Nepal you see more clearly a world, like that of the ancient Hebrews, individual interests are submerged in a community’s identity and needs. A Nepali, for example, may not touch a water bottle with his lips, tilting his head back and pouring in the water, because the water belongs to everyone around him.

Psalms 132, the longest of the Psalms of Ascent, is such a remembrance, of an event in their nation’s history and their God’s promises. They recall their greatest king, and his greatest ambition. And they remember what God had done and what he had said he would do. Such stories are not devoid of rhetorical force. They lead to action and anticipation, which is the case here. Because God also remembers. And acts. The Psalm begins with David keeping a promise and ends with God making several. All this invites us to shout for joy and turn toward the face of God’s anointed One.

The promise David had made was to provide a resting place for the Ark of the Covenant, “a dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob (vs. 5 and 8).” And the people were glad. In Ephrathat and Jaar they had rejoiced because they could go and worship at the very footstool of God (vs. 6-7). There had been a joyous procession up through the very mountains these ancient pilgrims now climbed. (You can read the story here, in 2 Samuel 6.)

So God had promised David a dynasty, “If your sons keep my covenant and my testimonies that I shall teach them, their sons also forever shall sit on your throne.” As we know from the chronicles of the kings, this did not happen. They did not keep his covenants or his testimonies. But the pilgrims rejoice in two unchangeable truths that do not depend on the faithfulness of Jewish kings. First, God has chosen Zion as his city, where he will satisfy her poor with bread and clothe her priests with salvation. And second, he will (and did) cause a horn to sprout for David (vs. 17), a lamp for his anointed, a messianic and eternal king. Jesus.

The action and anticipation evoked is that his “saints will shout for joy,” not because of David’s deeds, or because of their own, but because of God’s goodness, his promising-keeping grace. They will do this collectively, as a people, remembering, reflecting and rejoicing. As in Nepal and other eastern cultures, including that of David and Jesus, we do this together because every praise we offer encourages everyone else. Why should we keep reflection and thanksgiving to ourselves? Remembrance is the water bottle from which we drink.

So when you gather with believers, remember.

And be glad.

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