May 13, 2020 by Tim O’Connor
“…the procession of my God, my King, into the sanctuary” (Psalm 68:24)
Last week, I reflected on Psalm 31, which Christ quoted in his dying words, and our need to prepare for the inevitable occasions when our faith and hope is tested, and our usual support systems seem to break down, or vanish altogether. For an image, think of the looks on the faces of Frodo and his companions in the Return of the King, at the desperate moment when the forces of Mordor overwhelmed them, with no relief in sight. Although we need to confront the reality of the fight we are in, it’s also not healthy to always dwell on the bleakest experiences of life. Psalm 68 gives us a necessary counterpoint: a stirring exaltation as God leads the victorious nation of Israel, carrying the ark of the covenant, in a procession to Mount Sinai:
arise, his enemies shall be scattered;
and those who hate him shall flee before him!
2 As smoke is driven away, so you shall drive them away;
as wax melts before fire,
so the wicked shall perish before God!
3 But the righteous shall be glad;
they shall exult before God;
they shall be jubilant with joy!
The people having long suffered injustice and destitution, the King now brings just and prosperous order to his realm, and it is time for the victory parade:
17 The chariots of God are twice ten thousand,
thousands upon thousands;
the Lord is among them; Sinai is now in the sanctuary.
18 You ascended on high,
leading a host of captives in your train
and receiving gifts among men,
even among the rebellious, that the Lord God may dwell there.
v.18 should sound familiar. It is echoed by Paul in Ephesians 4 to describe the risen Christ (there he is again, lurking in the Psalms). But instead of receiving the war tributes of those whom he conquered, he bestows gifts on the captives he came to liberate. Those captives (us!) are a pathetic bunch. Flannery O’Connor well describes us at the end of her short story, Revelation, when the respectable Mrs. Turpin gazes at a “pig parlor” and has a sudden vision of “a vast horde of souls [who] were rumbling toward heaven. There were…battalions of freaks and lunatics shouting and clapping and leaping like frogs.” Those are the people at the head of the procession (the last shall be first, remember). Marching at the very back “with great dignity” are those who “always had a little of everything and the God-given wit to use it right.” That’s where I expect to be, alongside my fellow puffed-up intellectuals, pastors, and any bishops who manage to make it. But that’s ok, as Jesus is our king, too, and there will be joy even in the caboose.
Her vision having faded, Mrs. Turpin makes her way on the darkening path to her house, “but what she heard were the voices of the souls climbing upward into the starry field and shouting hallelujah.”
Thank you, Lord, for today’s comforting reminder in Psalm 68 of the ‘beyond time’ when all our trials shall have forever ceased, and your just rule and generous provision are fully realized. May the echoes of the procession’s shouted hallelujahs linger in us, reminding us that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.