Who is singing? and to Whom?
“With weeping they shall come, and with pleas for mercy I will lead them back, I will make them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble, for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.Hear the word of the Lord, O nations, and declare it in the coastlands far away; say, ‘He who scattered Israel will gather him, and will keep him as a shepherd keeps his flock.’”Jeremiah 31:9-10
There is a reflection of Psalm 23 in the passage quoted above from Jeremiah. Though we may be walking “through the valley of the shadow of death” in this secular world, the Good Shepherd will give us green pastures, and “will make [us] walk by brooks of water in a straight path.” He will not allow us to stumble if we keep our focus on Him. This is what we are witnessing and experiencing in reading and singing the Songs of Ascent. But by whom were these songs written, and to whom are they sung?
As we have seen, these Psalms were written by the Jewish exiles who were held captive in Babylon in the sixth century BC. Once the Jews were released and allowed to return to their home, and allowed to rebuild the city of Jerusalem, they sang of their struggles both in captivity and in the arduous journey back to their homeland. They were singing with their hearts turned toward God in gratitude and praise, but they were also singing in communion with one another as encouragement to each other, for the road home was a difficult one. The Psalms point to their recognition of the need for God, and their need for each other in making this journey.
The Psalter as a whole is a collection of reflections of the human heart. The Psalms cover the gamut of human experience in relation to God. They are expressions of our experience of the Almighty, and reflect both the good and the bad things that happen to us when we pursue our relationship with Him. Bishop Demetri, of the Antiochian Orthodox Church, in his foreword to the book Christ in the Psalms, by Patrick Henry Reardon, said:
The Psalms are important because they express in divinely inspired language the innermost thought and even fears of humanity. The Psalms express the wonder felt by those who gaze at the glory of God’s creation. They give words to the intense sorrow for sin. They profoundly express the horror of loneliness and alienation. No matter how deeply invaded by sentiments of despair, one finds these feelings echoed in the Psalms themselves, and, more important, finds them answered by the glorious message of the love of God. Most important, however, the Psalms point toward the ultimate liberation of humanity from sin, death, and despair through Jesus Christ. Indeed, it is only through Christ that we can understand the poetic language of the Psalms…It is most significant that, when He hung on the Cross, Our Lord quoted from the Psalms.
As we begin this Lenten Pilgrimage, we are called to focus our attention on Zion, not the world. As we listen to and join in singing the Songs of Ascent, let us hear in them the Word of the Lord. Let us listen to Him. For in Him we will find hope and salvation. We are marching to Zion.