The Pilgrim Psalms - Psalms 120-134
This Sunday marks a significant milestone in the life of our Clearbrook MB church family. This is the first Sunday after the caring and compassionate ministry of Pastor Scott and Miriam Tolhurst. As a church, we have very much to be grateful to God for. Our gratitude was passionately expressed in many ways throughout Pastor Scott’s ministry - one expression was our Appreciation Luncheon on April 24 for Pastor Scott and Miriam.
One of the many ways that Pastor Scott equipped or “prepared God’s people for the works of service” (Ephesians 4:11-13) was through the weekly “For Pilgrims” column in the church bulletin. I fully recognize that this cannot be equalled - and I will never attempt to do so. But, my wish is to draw on the theme of “Pilgrims” in the next months.
In our Wednesday Bible studies, we are now beginning with the fifteen psalms that all have the title “A song of ascents” - Psalms 120 - 134. These fifteen psalms are traditionally understood as psalms the Israelites sang as they made the journey from distant parts of the world to Jerusalem - and specifically to the Lord’s temple. The Israelites were pilgrims. However, these 15 psalms were not merely pleasant and uplifting songs we may have sung as families as we travelled long distances. I recognize not every family is a singing family. But when a family spends many hours - even days, together in a car travelling to visit the grandparents it helps pass the time to sing light songs.
“The songs of Ascents” are deeper. The faithful people of God left their homes to remind themselves of God’s mighty acts of redemption, to renew their commitment to God, to spend time in the LORD’s house - simply and profoundly to be in God’s presence with God’s people.
Eugene H. Peterson provides inspiring and challenging commentaries on the fifteen “Songs of Ascents” in his book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction - Discipleship in an Instant Society.” He writes that the designation “pilgrim (parepidemos) tells us we are people who spend our lives going someplace, going to God, and whose path for getting there is the way, Jesus Christ.” (p. 11)
I invite you to reflect on these fifteen psalms - one a week - as we discover what it means to follow Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life. In a culture where we “assume that if something can be done at all, it can be done quickly and efficiently” (p. 10), these psalms challenge this premise.
Eugene Peterson uses the metaphor of “footprints” to describe these 15 psalms. A footprint lets the next walkers/pilgrims - know the direction to walk. A footprint does not state how far we are on the path nor how close we are to our destination. It just points - and thereby shows the direction we must journey.
These 15 psalms address the path of God’s people in different ways - yet all point in the same direction. I invite you to meditate on Psalm 120 for next Sunday - the first “footprint.”