(December 1, 2013, Advent 1, Year A of RCL)
Psalm 122 Page 779, BCP
1 I was glad when they said to me,
"Let us go to the house of the LORD."
2 Now our feet are standing
within your gates, O Jerusalem.
3 Jerusalem is built as a city
that is at unity with itself;
4 To which the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD,
the assembly of Israel, to praise the Name of the LORD.
5 For there are the thrones of judgment,
the thrones of the house of David.
6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
"May they prosper who love you.
7 Peace be within your walls
and quietness within your towers.
8 For my brethren and companions' sake,
I pray for your prosperity.
9 Because of the house of the LORD our God,
I will seek to do you good."
This psalm is one of the “psalms of ascents” (Psalms 120-134) that are also called “Songs of Steps” or “Pilgrim Songs.” This one, 122, was supposedly written by David, along with 124, 131, and 133. These 15 psalms were supposedly sung as pilgrims travelled to Jerusalem to attend the three “pilgrimage festivals” or (Shalosh R'galim): the festivals of Passover (also called the feast of unleavened bread), Pentecost (or Shavu’ot , also called the Feast of Weeks, celebrating the giving of the Torah), and Sukkot (or the Feast of the Booths). These psalms were also recited by priests—one psalm for each of the 15 steps they climbed to serve in the Temple. Thus we see here a declaration of joy and anticipation about serving in the house of the Lord. All 15 are hopeful in tone.
As with our reading from Isaiah, Jerusalem is named as the center of worship. Going to Jerusalem was always described as “going up.” If God’s abode is Jerusalem, then going to Jerusalem is “going to God;” and seeing Jerusalem is “seeing God.” If Jerusalem is identified with God, it must be “at unity with itself,” (v. 3). This is a vision for the future, since it certainly does not describe the true history of Jerusalem, either in the time of David or even today. This is a prayer for peace, security, and prosperity, but for ALL people, not in competition with one another.
Thus, this psalm is not so much about the actual city of Jerusalem as about the true worship of God, about orienting ourselves according to God’s axis, not our frail human values. In the midst of trial, are we not glad to “go to the house of the Lord” and “stand within his gates?” Is not God our refuge and source of joy and strength? May we all “pray for the peace of Jerusalem (v. 6)”—the peace of God which surpasses understanding but remakes us completely into lovers of justice and good (v. 8).