pilgrim resting

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem

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I was glad when they said to me, *
    “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” – Psalm 122:1

I have always loved this psalm. The whole psalm calls us to pray for Jerusalem and to give thanks for it as a holy place.

At some point along the way, I learned that this is one of the Psalms of Ascent (Psalms 120-134), intended to be sung by pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem. Or perhaps they were sung by the ministers of the temple as they ascended its steps. Either way, there is an ancient connection between these songs and worship in Jerusalem.

On my first trip to Israel, I heard this psalm in a profoundly new to me, but truly ancient, way. I was with a group, and as our bus climbed up the road from the airport into the modern city of Jerusalem, our leader began to say this psalm. Perhaps this common practice—saying Psalm 122 on the way into Jerusalem with tour groups—will be seen by some as gimmicky. I found it to be deeply moving. I was indeed glad to be traveling to see holy places. And one cannot be in Israel for long without realizing how far Jerusalem is from peace and unity.

There are, for me, two big takeaways from this psalm. One is that our hearts are rightly gladdened when we prepare to worship, whether it’s in a local church or a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Imagine if families said the opening line of Psalm 122 as they piled into the car to drive to church.

The other point that this psalm brings home is that we do well to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Whatever one’s views on the causes and solutions of violence in Palestine and Israel, to move around Jerusalem is to experience both profound holiness and disturbing division. It’s heartbreaking to see people at enmity in such close proximity to places where God has done great things for us in love.

There are plenty of seemingly intractable problems in the world. Finding peace in the Middle East, especially in Israel and Palestine, seems impossible. (If you think you have an easy shortcut to establish peace, you haven’t learned enough about the people who live there and their history.) We proclaim that with God all things are possible. Surely that includes peace in Jerusalem.

Rather than withdraw from the world’s “impossible” problems, I hope we engage with them. Are there small things we can do or urge others to do? Large gains are always made one step at a time, after all. More than that, we can do what we ought to do best. We can pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Prayer will put our hearts in the right place to do deeds for peace. O God, may we see peace in Jerusalem in our time, by your grace.

Photo of a pilgrim resting in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, by Scott Gunn via Flickr.

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