March 13, 2017

Lent and the Psalms of Ascent

I started walking last June because of a FaceBook challenge put out by a former student. My job is primarily sedentary, and the goal of 10,000 steps a day seemed like a mountain to me. But I started. It was easier in the summer, and more difficult once school and classes and meetings filled my days. I’m on my fourth “tool” to track my steps. As important as meeting my goal was, the trackers have not been the most helpful aid to meeting my goal. Most helpful has been the music of the Psalms. Lately I’ve been listening to Audrey Assad, singing with her, internalizing the truths of God’s goodness and provision for me.

Lent is our annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the passion of Jesus Christ. As we walk through these days of winter into spring, the Psalms of Ascent can help us to keep moving; they can give us the perspective that we need to get through gray days. Even the Psalms that are filled with lament point us to the source of hope: our God is faithful. Our God is Shepherd. Our God is sovereign.

We started Lent at Harderwyk Celebration by looking at Psalm 120, a psalm of distress. The message was the same as that of our Ash Wednesday service: we are dust. We live in a broken world, and even when we speak for truth and grace and love and peace, the voices around us seem to drown out any hope. But we know that God answers our cries of distress! In this season of self-examination, of realizing our dust-iness, we turn to God.

The second week of Lent at Harderwyk brought us another psalm of ascent, Psalm 121 . . . one of my favorite psalms. I think it is my favorite because I remember memorizing it with my children when they were in early elementary school. The actions that we did, and the expression with which we spoke still ring in my ears and heart today: “indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep . . . the Lord is your shade at your right hand . . . the Lord will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life . . . both now and forevermore!” The promises were sweet for me, but even more precious as I heard them for my children. This is the song we get to sing as we journey to Jerusalem.

The weeks ahead bring a focus on Jerusalem, on God’s strong provision (“If the Lord had not been on our side—let Israel say—if the Lord had not been on our side . . .” Psalm 124), on the mountain-like solid protection of God of his people, and of the joy of release from captivity in Psalm 126. There is so much to sing about as we travel, so many truths that join our hearts with the Israelites as they made their way to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.  

We will get there, to the Table and the garden and the trial and the cross and the empty tomb. We know what is coming. But for now we travel, with a song in our hearts and a God that watches our every step. “He will not let our foot slip!” ( Psalm 121:3).

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope.  

My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning,

more than watchmen wait for the morning.  

O People of God, put your hope in the Lord

for with the Lord is unfailing love

and with him is full redemption.

—Ps. 130:5-7

Thanks be to God!

Carol Hochhalter has been working in worship higher education for years, and is currently serving as Worship Director for the Celebration congregation at Harderwyk Ministries in Holland, Michigan.