A Psalm for Covid-19

Psalm 121 – Help Is on the Horizon

The coronavirus pandemic marks the first time an entire generation, a privileged one at that, has been asked to undergo the trials of their ancestors – loneliness, danger, economic hardship, disease. How are we doing? Honestly, some of us are not doing very well. As the worldwide crisis goes on, it seems like a perilous journey that might never end. Psalm 121 was written to encourage worried travelers on a more literal, no less perilous journey: the rugged, weeks-long trek through ancient Israel toward Jerusalem.

This is a song for an anxious pilgrimage.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from? 
My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. 
He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber; 
indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. 
The LORD watches over you— the LORD is your shade at your right hand; 
the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. 
The LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore

Where does my help come from?

From most areas of Israel, Jerusalem would have been an upward toil. In verse 1, travelers look toward the mountains which lie ahead of them. At the outset, they realize there are undiscovered problems hidden in those hills.

And yet, the horizon also holds an answer. The beautiful temple of God, plated in gold, sat atop Mount Zion at the apex of the capital city. From certain vantage points the travelers might glimpse their destination in the intense sunlight, glowing in the distance. By raising their eyes toward their coming hardships, the pilgrims would also be reminded of the powerful presence of God, their help along the way.

Watchman on the walls

The Lord is portrayed as the watchman on the walls of our lives. He keeps us, guards us, watches over us in the most active and intimate way. He is as close as our shadow, and his protection extends to every time of day or night. We may sleep in hostile situations with confidence that He does not. It is His job and His character to keep us from harm. Without knowing what lies around the next bend, whether bandit or lion or refreshing mountain spring, we can trust that nothing comes to us except by His permission. In addition to the ten dangers we do encounter, this poem implies there have been hundreds more we passed safely by, thanks to the continual watchcare of God. And we do not face the problems of the journey alone.

Dangers still in the distance

The psalmist wrote his final stanza in the future tense. After describing the Lord’s present protection, he invites worried travelers to trust God for those dangers and years still in the distance. We cannot always see the boulders in the road, the robbers hiding nearby or the mountains of tomorrow, but we know they are there. This song assures us many potential threats have already been fenced out and our God is with us every step of the way. We tend to imagine the troubles ahead, but God is far greater than our problems, real or imagined.

As we face a changed world, not knowing where danger lies but knowing it’s out there somewhere, where does our help come from? When the eyes of fear glimpse illness or loss or poverty, let us also envision the presence of God guarding, guiding and comforting us all along our journey. Psalm 121 reminds us, we can either focus on our fears or upon God’s constant presence and abiding love.

The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Deuteronomy 31:8


Questions:

  1. What dangers do you imagine lie in wait for you?
  1. Can you trust the Lord to protect you on the journey of life? Consider memorizing a verse from Psalm 121 to help you remember God watches over you.

The Feet of Jesus

Like many of you under a COVID-19 stay-at-home order, I am living a life of boredom ease on my couch as Holy Week approaches. However, I am also recovering from foot surgery. My bones had shifted out of place, but my doctor was able to fasten several small, metal plates inside my foot, reconstructing its original shape. Though well worth it, the pain involved can be electric, and that has me thinking about the feet of Jesus.

Jesus’ death by crucifixion is almost too overwhelming, physically and psychologically, to take in as a whole. (The one time I watched Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, I lay wailing on the floor, which is not like me at all.) However, it’s important to understand the agony of His death so we might better understand the immensity of our sin. And the sacrifice required to pay for it. In this case, consider the barbarous destruction of Christ’s feet.

Death by Crucifixion

Edwards, William & Gabel, W & Hosmer, F. (1986).

You’ve seen the pictures of Christ on the cross which depict large nails run through His hands and feet. Although there were multiple methods, commonly the feet were crossed one over the other and secured with a single spike. We know that no bones were broken during the crucifixion, so the nail would have been driven between the metatarsals, damaging several major nerves. Due to the slack position of the torso, it would have been necessary for the victim to push upward on those impaled feet and screaming nerves to take a full breath. Jesus did this for about six hours before He succumbed to His injuries.

Considering the accidental pain of changing positions or flexing my toes right now, I can’t fathom the agony Christ endured bearing the weight of His exhausted body on His damaged feet. Unbelievably, this was only a small part of His physical suffering. And that physical suffering was only a small part of His torture. It was a symbolic snapshot of the deeper spiritual anguish of bearing the sins of the world.

The Feet of Christ

The feet of Christ bled for me. Those beautiful feet which arrived with good news. Those miraculous feet where many were healed. Those well-traveled feet where Mary sat rapt. Those human feet whose wounds convinced Thomas of the the resurrection. Those conquering feet which bruised the head of Satan. Those kingly feet which will one day rest upon God’s defeated enemies.

But, this week, as we contemplate the pain that Jesus’ feet endured for us, we might do best to imitate the sinful woman who wept over His feet, washing them with her tears. We will be in good company to bow there, grieving, to offer our gratitude and praise. We will be exactly where God wants us to be: worshiping at the feet of Jesus.


Related:

Humbled at His Feet
Fall at the Feet of Jesus
The Resurrection Gambit

I am Barabbas

All four Gospels in the New Testament record the story of Barabbas, a notorious prisoner who was released as a favor to the Jews at Passover. (Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23 and John 18.) The Roman governor, Pilate, offered to free Jesus instead, but the politically motivated crowd chose Barabbas. We don’t know what happened to this man after his release, but I see his story as a beautiful metaphor of the substitution which Jesus has offered me.  And so this poem (with its imagined ending) is about me. I am Barabbas.

I am Barabbas, a sinner in chains.
My heart is a prison of stone.
Guilty of murder and sentenced to die,
Unrepentant, desperate, alone.

The scrape of a key in the lock at my door
Sends chills through my fevered brain.
I tremble with fear at the specter of death.
I rage at the imminent pain.

What is this judgment: “Another shall die,”
And I shall go free in his stead?
Who is this sinner more hated than I,
Who bears such a price on his head?

Blinded by sunlight, awash in the crowd,
I hear them shout “Traitor!” and “Lord!”
They say he is chosen, a prophet of God;
They will give him a prophet’s reward.

He died like a king, forgiving them all,
Refusing the gall and the wine.
Could He see that his pain, the terror and shame,
Was mine – was all of it mine?

I ran from the mob which would make me a stooge.
I ran from the guards, as well.
I ran from the one who had taken my place,
I hid in my own private hell.

Three days he stayed in the prison of death,
And my guilt was only increased.
But the grave was undone by the Power of Love –
He rose, and we both were released.

I am Barabbas, freed from my chains.
For my crimes the Innocent died.
Redeemed in His name, forever I’ll serve
The Risen and Glorified.


Originally published here in 2012.


Related Material:

More on Barabbas as our substitute

What the resurrection means for us

What else it means for us