We continue to live in apocalyptic — that is, revelatory — times. So much that has been hidden is coming to light. So many old societal wounds of race and class and gender that many of us were led to believe were healing, if not healed, have been shown to be open and festering. These past few years have been a time of collective reckoning pretty much all over the Western world. We — none of us, not as individuals or as societies — are not who say we are and the facades are crumbling before our eyes.
I believe this is all good. As James Baldwin wisely said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.” We need to trust in ourselves, in our best dreams for our countries, and in God to be big, strong, and resilient enough to not only withstand the truth, but to be made bigger, stronger, and even more resilient and beautiful because of it. The truth does, in fact, set us free. The only way forward is through it.
But, it’s also exhausting. It’s unsettling and disturbing. Wounds are painful; exposing them is painful; healing is painful. In amidst it all, we need a little balm to ease the pain. And that’s why I was grateful to see Psalm 133 as one of today’s assigned readings. It’s a short, but beautiful song about the power of coming together:
Oh, how good and pleasant it is, when brethren live together in unity!
It is like fine oil upon the head that runs down upon the beard,
Upon the beard of Aaron, and runs down upon the collar of his robe.
It is like the dew of Hermon that falls upon the hills of Zion.
For there the Lord has ordained the blessing: life for evermore.
It’s one of the “Psalms of Ascent,” which are believed to be the songs sung by pilgrims as they approached Jerusalem. By its very nature, pilgrimage brings people together from all different places, tribes, trades, and social standing, under their shared identity as siblings under God. Finding unity among all this diversity would not have been easy. Overcoming difference is hard work. And yet it expresses a deep truth: The things that divide — big and hard as they may be — do not destroy the fundamental unity of God’s family. And so, the psalm recognizes that this unity, this harmony of often very different voices, is not to be taken for granted. It is in fact a blessing, a blessing so big and beautiful that the psalmist uses some of the most evocative poetic images in all of Scripture to describe it.
The blessing that comes from living well together is like the richly fragrant oil used for anointing priests (here symbolized by Aaron, the first High Priest under the Law), poured out in such abundance that it flows down not only over his hair, but down his whole beard. It is an image of bounty, of extravagance, and of beautiful perfume.
This blessing is also described as thick mountain dew. In the arid climate of Israel, where little rain fell during the Summer months, the life-sustaining dew and snow-melts of Mount Hermon were an apt symbol of miraculous lushness and refreshment, water appearing out of nowhere, like the manna God provided in the desert.
The psalm concludes that it is here — in the hard-won harmony of different people gathered together — where we find God’s true blessing, “life for evermore,” or “eternal life.” While translations like this are almost universal in English, they are also misleading. Neither the Hebrew word, ‘olam nor the ancient Jewish Greek translation, aeon, have primarily temporal implications. Both mean something like ‘world’ or ‘age’. It’s less about living ‘for evermore’ than living the ‘evermore’ here and now. We might well paraphrase it as the life of the Kingdom of God, the life of God’s Kingdom of Shalom. This life is tov — good, as God’s original creation was good.
And this is why the psalm feels so timely to me. We, throughout the Western world but particularly as Canadians, are trying to do something beautiful but hard in trying to build an intentionally diverse society. Coming together in unity is always going to be difficult. Sameness is easy, but it’s also boring, misleading, and hides so much from us. Difference is the harder path, but it’s also where there is the potential for the greatest blessing, for the fullest expression of Shalom, God’s peace that is the presence of whole and just relationships.
And so as we continue on in this difficult, apocalyptic time, let us remember that it is in truly coming together through and within all the difficulties, that we find God’s blessing.
How good and pleasant it is, when all of God’s children come together and dwell in unity.
How good and pleasant it is.