Monday, July 8, 2013

Thoughts on Psalm 137

I wrote these thoughts on Psalm 137 for the PCQ Women's Ministry Newsletter.

Read the Psalm here. It starts: By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion...

Despite its violent end, I have long loved Psalm 137. Is was written by grief stricken Judeans shortly after their deportation to Babylon and is raw and real. It’s generally thought of as a lament, but to me it’s a love song. The Psalmist has been ripped away from his beloved Zion and he is vowing to never forget her, to stay faithful to her despite the distance between them. The possibility of moving on and getting over her is real, but it must not happen. It would be better for him to lose his ability to play his harp than for him to play songs to someone else. It would be better for his tongue to stick to his upper palate than for him to sing of anyone else. Though it’s likely he’ll never see her again, she must remain the most important thing. His hope, his highest joy.

5 If I forget you, Jerusalem,
may my right hand forget its skill.
6 May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
my highest joy.

I love this Psalm. I love it for its realness and passion and I love it because it is my song. Like the psalmist, I am in a foreign land. Jerusalem, the new Jerusalem, the city of the great King, is my home. I long for her and must continue to long for her. The attractions of this land, the land of my exile, must not charm me. I must not become so at home here that I forget her.

Though others mock, I will sing the songs of Zion. Though the world sees her as a spent force, an irrelevance, I will sing of her beauty, of her enduring strength, of the security of those within her walls.

The new Jerusalem is my city. The Psalmist was pulled away from his Jerusalem but he wouldn’t let her go. She mustn’t become merely his past. She must remain his highest joy, every moment. The new Jerusalem is my future. She is where I am headed but she must also be present.

O new Jerusalem, capture my imagination. May I sing of you. May I hold on to you as my highest joy. Amen.

1 comment:

  1. I really love this psalm too, and particularly enjoy the Godspell version of it which substitutes "lives" for "lyres" and has a beautiful haunting tune. I preached on this psalm recently as a counterpoint to the Egyptian Hallel (Psalms 113-118) which is traditionally sung to celebrate Passover and other major festivals.

    The thing about this psalm is that they can't sing, or refuse to do so. "On the willows there we hung up our lyres, and there we wept". "How can we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land?". There are times in our lives, and in the lives of our churches, when to sing songs of praise would be a travesty and the only appropriate thing to do is weep. Then there are other times when we should sing and rejoice at the tops of our voices.

    What's hard for us is to discern these times and, in our 21st century churches in particular, when we should put the songs of praise away and weep together, because we find that extraordinarily difficult to do.

    And then there's the bitter, angry ending! How willing are we to express our anger in public worship? Yet anger is not a sin. Paul makes the distinction between the two - "be angry, but do not sin". The Israelis put theirs in a psalm - in fact in quite a few - and sang about it in the temple. I'm still trying to get to grips with that one.