To the Church in Exile,
Hey friends, I miss you all so much today. The peace of Christ be with you. All through this week in this city of unknowns and anxiety, I was so looking forward to worshiping in one place together with you. But we cannot right now. Even so, let us not fear, for God is with us (Is. 43:5). I am hoping to send daily Lenten meditations to you in the hope that you could dive into our Lenten theme: Divine Encounters in Surprising Places. Today we hear from one of our Lent lectionary readings:
I lift up my eyes to the hills— from where will my help come?Psalm 121:1-3, 6-8
My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved; …
The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from
this time on and forevermore.
This is a travel psalm. It is in a section of the Psalms, Songs of Ascent, which were songs sung on the pilgrimage up to Jerusalem which sat on Mt. Zion. On top of the hills there often sat pagan shrines and the pilgrim would look up and ask, “Where am I going to find help for the journey?” “My help isn’t coming from those gods on the hills; my help comes from Yahweh, the Lord.” It begs the question, where do we find our help in the strange wilderness we often find ourselves in?
I find this Covid-19 phenomenon a complete mystery. It is like a slow-motion crisis with unknown parameters. The Tennessee tornados all happened on Tuesday. We are living in a slow-motion film where the damage comes a frame a day.
But the Lord, Yahweh, is with us each step. God protects us from ankle sprains – “He will not let your foot be moved.” And with no shelter, God guards us from sunstroke and moonstroke (“lunacy” from the word “lunar”): “The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.”
Is there danger? Yes. Evil? We are seeing the dark side of the way our world was made where our cells can mutate to fight threats. Now we have a mutation that is not completely understood. “The Lord will keep you from all evil.” Eugene Peterson in his classic reflection on the Songs of Ascent, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction,reminds us that we misinterpret the psalm if we think God will keep all evil from touching our lives. We know better. And the psalmists did too. The point is not that we will not encounter evil, but that it will not capture our souls, get inside our mindsets and the center of who we are; that it need not drive a wedge between us and our God who travels with us. It’s a reminder that even the pit of disaster can surprise us with divine encounter.
Lord God, when our places of comfort have evaporated, draw us to you, our only help and salvation. Watch our footsteps by night and day. Give us shelter and direction signs, and open our eyes to others who are in the sometimes-dark journey with us. Be our help even as we are helpers. And keep evil from getting inside our souls and separating us from you and your reign. Teach us to fear nothing but the fear of losing you. Through our Lord Jesus we pray. Amen.
Peace in Christ,