It can be easy to miss the Psalm during our Sunday morning worship, passing over it as more of a bridge between the day’s lessons than a piece of scripture to itself experience. But, as I’ve mentioned before, there’s a reason that it’s captivated not one, not two, but three different religions—every Abrahamic faith has a fundamental relationship with the collection of Ancient Hebrew songs. They’re part of the Jewish and Christian Bibles, and Islamic tradition recognizes them as scripture. They’ve been a part of worship since the Temple. The vulnerability of the words, the way they express the fullness of faith, is hard to replicate. The Psalms run the full gamut of life from the deeply personal to the national and even cosmic, touching upon almost every conceivable emotion along the way. Millennia of faith communities have found their voice in the book, and it is hard to imagine our relationship to God without them.
But it can also be easy to misread the Psalms, forgetting their context due to the deep familiarity they evoke. When we read together Psalm 133 this Sunday, please listen to its words carefully. Pray them if you can, especially because I think we need to recognize the psalmist’s exultation of what it means to “live together in unity” for what it is. Those words don’t describe the world of the Psalm; rather, they’re a vision of a society that the author longs for, a vision of the Messianic age. We’re offered the extended image of “fine oil upon the head,” because it’s how people (and things) were sanctified in Ancient Israel. Aaron may have been the first, but generations of priests and kings were thus consecrated and set apart. This act is where the title of Messiah/Christ* comes from, and it’s why we continue to chrismate people to welcome them into the fullness of the Church. Notice also how the oil is described as running “down” just as the live-giving “dew of Harmon” falls. The repetition of downward movement and use of Harmon should remind us of Amos, including Amos 5:24: “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” The “good and pleasant” unity that opens the Psalm is the goal, not the means. It names a personal challenge and a cosmic commitment. Just as we go out into the world after services, we are called by the psalmist to go down into the land, our land, and share in making it holy. Only then can we fully claim to be the Body of Christ, ordained by the Lord as “a blessing” that draws all towards “life forevermore.”
*same word, different languages