I remember not being able to sleep the night before our wedding. Partly, it was nerves; mostly, it was anticipation. The day we’d been planning for months was almost here, and there was so much to look forward to.
The Psalms of Ascents were a group of travellers’ songs, sung by God’s people on their annual pilgrimage up to Jerusalem for their religious festivals. The last three (Psalms 132-134) express the anticipation of almost being there. The temple in Jerusalem was a place that captured so many of their hopes and dreams: their great King David had longed for it (v1-5), and their ancestors had sung for joy within it (v6-9). But their joy was less in the location than in the person who was there: the temple was the place where God met and rested with his people (v8).
Why do Christians go to church every Sunday? Christians love meeting together not because they love church buildings, or even for the love of religious practice; but for two other reasons. Firstly, because when they meet together, they meet with God. God describes his people as his ‘resting-place’: the Christian God loves to spend time with human people, and he does it when they are in community with each other and him.
Secondly, Christians go to church because it helps them anticipate the future.
How do you feel about the future? Our secular culture is gravely pessimistic: human progress meets constant setbacks; the political sphere is increasingly divided; climate change is leading us towards destruction. But the Christian view is that this is not the end of the story; there is so much to look forward to.
The first half of this song looks back to King David in the past, to the times God’s people met together with great joy. The second half looks to the future. God made a promise that one day, one of David’s descendants (Jesus) would become king (v11), God would rest with his people for eternity (v14), and the world would be put right: people would have all they need, the poor would be cared for, people would be saved from trouble, and all would sing for joy (v15). The Bible presents this view of eternity not as some ethereal, floaty existence in the clouds but as a physical reality to come. When Christians meet, we get a foretaste of this as God meets with us, and we remind each other of this future to keep ourselves going in the present and maintain hope.
You might feel like the world around you is closing in, and the future might fill you with fear. Perhaps the Christians you know feel differently. Have you ever wondered why? Why not join them one Sunday, and see what they’re excited about? There really is so much to look forward to.
PRAYER God, if you are real, then there is hope: perhaps you see the bigger picture, and perhaps this world is not all there is. Please show me that you are there, and show me that with you in my life I can look to the future with anticipation. Amen.
A song of ascents.
1 Lord, remember David and all his self-denial.
2 He swore an oath to the Lord, he made a vow to the Mighty One of Jacob:
3 ‘I will not enter my house or go to my bed,
4 I will allow no sleep to my eyes or slumber to my eyelids,
5 till I find a place for the Lord, a dwelling for the Mighty One of Jacob.’
6 We heard it in Ephrathah, we came upon it in the fields of Jaar:
7 ‘Let us go to his dwelling-place, let us worship at his footstool, saying,
8 “Arise, Lord, and come to your resting-place, you and the ark of your might.
9 May your priests be clothed with your righteousness; may your faithful people sing for joy.” ’
10 For the sake of your servant David, do not reject your anointed one.
11 The Lord swore an oath to David, a sure oath he will not revoke:
‘One of your own descendants I will place on your throne.
12 If your sons keep my covenant and the statutes I teach them,
then their sons shall sit on your throne for ever and ever.’
13 For the Lord has chosen Zion, he has desired it for his dwelling, saying,
14 ‘This is my resting-place for ever and ever; here I will sit enthroned, for I have desired it.
15 I will bless her with abundant provisions; her poor I will satisfy with food.
16 I will clothe her priests with salvation, and her faithful people shall ever sing for joy.
17 ‘Here I will make a horn grow for David and set up a lamp for my anointed one.
18 I will clothe his enemies with shame, but his head shall be adorned with a radiant crown.’