Persisting in Priest-ing

A Song of Ascents.

134 Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord,
    who stand by night in the house of the Lord!
Lift up your hands to the holy place
    and bless the Lord!

[So, bless the LORD, you priests, servants in the holy place.  

And then the priests, the servants of the holy place, respond:]

May the Lord bless you from Zion,
    he who made heaven and earth!

Bless the LORD…may the LORD bless you.  Blessing running in both directions, to God and from God, with the priests as conveyors.  

Here’s what Torah stated:  Exodus 34:23: “Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the LORD God, the God of Israel.”  These three times were at festivals: Passover, Feast of First-fruits, and Feast of Booths.  

And as these men + families would travel to Jerusalem, they would sing.  Likely these “songs of ascents” recorded in Psalm 120-134 were some of these pilgrim songs, called “ascents” because Jerusalem sat at a higher elevation.  

As I said, Psalm 134 is the last of them.  Charles Spurgeon, the great Victorian London preacher, imagined a possible setting for this final song of ascents: 

The Pilgrims are going home, and are singing the last song in their psalter. They leave early in the morning, before the day has fully commenced, for the journey is long for many of them. While yet the night lingers they are on the move. As soon as they are outside the gates they see the guards upon the temple wall, and the lamps shining from the windows of the chambers which surround the sanctuary; therefore, moved by the sight, they chant a farewell to the perpetual attendants upon the holy shrine. Their parting exhortation arouses the priests to pronounce upon them a blessing out of the holy place: this benediction is contained in the third verse. The priests as good as say, “You have desired us to bless the Lord, and now we pray the Lord to bless you.”

The entreaty of the departing pilgrims to the servants who work is bless the LORD.  What is it to bless the LORD?  To bless is very much like “praise” or “thank”… but then not exactly the same.  Glance over at v. 15 of the next psalm to gain a little clarity:

15 The idols of the nations are silver and gold,
    the work of human hands.
16 They have mouths, but do not speak;
    they have eyes, but do not see;
17 they have ears, but do not hear,
    nor is there any breath in their mouths.
18 Those who make them become like them,
    so do all who trust in them.

19 O house of Israel, bless the Lord!
    O house of Aaron, bless the Lord!
20 O house of Levi, bless the Lord!
    You who fear the Lord, bless the Lord!

To bless the LORD is to notice and exclaim over the fact that He is not dead or inert or irrelevant or inconsequential like the idols of the nations.  But the opposite: that He’s alive…in fact gives life.  Not inert, but the Creator and Maintainer…He gets things done.  Not inconsequential but the One with whom we have to do, who will be reckoned with.  Before whose face heaven and earth flees away.  

The verb [to bless] praises the LORD as the one with whom alone there is the power that creates and sustains life.  He is the source of all blessing.  – Mays

We keep using the word “life” around bless because bless is a creation word, a Genesis 1-2 word.  To bless God is to name God as the Source of all that exists and lives.  

And so, as the leave the pilgrims are charging the priests to continue with the task of diligently, carefully, joyfully acknowledging God’s work among the creation, His making alive, getting things done.  

Even at night the blessing of God must go on.  While the rest of the region sleeps, let the acknowledgement of God’s acts still flow.  There is no time when the LORD work needn’t be celebrated.  Even while no one else is paying attention, when there’s no crowd gathered, bless the LORD.  

Yes, even when it seems unnecessary…and to bless the LORD almost always seems extraneous, beside the main point, pleasant if it happens but if not…{shrug shoulders}.

Not true!  Lift up your hands to this vital work of blessing the LORD.  Two remarks about lifting up your hands.  1) There’s nothing spectacular to lifting up your hands, but what’s implied in it is something that’s the opposite of perfunctory or distracted: an energetic action that comes out of total engrossment.  So, servants of the LORD, as you acknowledge Him don’t do this half-heartedly, begrudgingly.  It’s not the “pretty little extra” added onto the real stuff  

2) The second remark about lifting your hands is a little more philosophical:  this phrase reminds us that we are spiritual beings who live out our spiritual existence through our bodies.  We can’t say, what we do with our bodies doesn’t matter because I’m a spiritual being who relates to God and others spiritually.  No, what we do with our bodies matters…in our spirit.  For instance, whether we have sex and who we have sex with is not simply a bodily choice but a spiritual one.  All the decisions of our bodies: from the big ones of what places our body will live in… to the small ones of what pictures we put on our walls or postures we use while we pray… have spiritual consequence.  

Even if you didn’t get that last subpoint, you still get the main point: the pilgrims are charging these priests with putting their whole selves, body and spirit, into blessing the LORD.  

Do you know any priests?  And I’ll hazard to claim: yes, you do.  Jesus is a priest, standing between God and the creation.  And when we see Him up close in the gospels here’s what we observe: He blesses the LORD.  Jesus is constantly living in reference to God.  We could turn to any page of the gospels and establish that: Jesus is constantly living in reference to God.  

When He sees lilies of the field, He thought, and eventually remarked on: God clothes these better than the wealthiest person takes care of himself.  

When He heard about someone getting a divorce, He thought, God brought this man and woman together.  

When He saw some people without a lot of education following Him, He whistled to Himself and then spoke to God, I thank you, Father, that you’ve hidden things from some intellectuals and revealed the same things to blue-collar types.  

When Jesus is dying, in that weak, scary moment He doesn’t stop blessing God, but rather acknowledges Him: My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?  To bless the LORD is always to take Him seriously, even if that’s noting His absence.  So, sometimes to bless God sounds like lament.

In everything He experiences, this Priest sees God.  Jesus stands between the Creation and all the developments of the Creation and acknowledges God’s work within the Creation: His beauty, His power, His surprising ways.  Even as the world turns grimy and the bad stuff gets real and lies abound, the Priest blesses the LORD.  In every situation He spots traces of the work of God.  That, as the poet says, underneath all the smudge of sin There lives the dearest freshness deep down things…

As we remarked at the beginning, this psalm speaks of a two-way blessing and the Priest the channel of both.  Bless the LORD.  And… May the LORD bless you from Zion…Zion, the dwelling of God and center of priestly activity.  Jesus, the Great Priest, stood between the LORD and His Creation to bless the LORD and to become the channel through which the LORD would bless the Creation.  

From the priestly activity of Jesus, men and women, boys and girls receive the great blessing, in fact are reconciled to the Creator of Life.  Blessing from God through the suffering Priest.  The sin of the world laid on the body of Jesus.  The One in whom no deceit was found, who faithfully blessed the LORD, died evidently under a curse.  

But that death was not in vain!  From this suffering – – blessing.  The grime of our sin…the weight of our ingratitude and complaint…the scandal of our defiance instead of our reverence – taken from us and brought into the grave with the Priest!  Then Christ, still representing us as a faithful Priest, rises from the dead.  We are brought out of the realm of death, judgment.  We come into life…blessing, through the resurrection of the great High Priest.  



Revelation 1:6 By redemption through His bloodshed, Jesus the High Priest has made us to become priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever.  Disciples of Jesus are priests.  Maybe we’re not very good at that, so we’re priests in training.  

To call us “priests” is another way of saying that – through Jesus – we’ve become fully human.  Because humans are made in the image of God.  Which means, we’re designed to stand between God and the Creation like a tilted mirror: reflecting the wisdom and love of God into the Creation and reflecting the praise and acknowledgement of the Creation back to God.  

Natural born humans are bad priests.  Born of Christ’s Spirit humans are restored priests.      

·      Brothers and sisters in Christ – – Priests!  Use a secular holiday like Thanksgiving to recall you to your vocation: blessing the LORD.  Don’t just gather with friends and family around the table laden with food without thinking.  See God in the bounty of the food.  See God in the lives of your friends.  If you can’t see God in the lives of your friends or family mourn His absence.  Where are you God?  In everything, acknowledge God.  

Everything.  I love that Chariots of Fire line, “God made me fast, and when I run I feel His Presence.”  

Brothers and sisters, your priestly role is not to drop religion or God awkwardly into conversations about football, politics, cotton vs wool socks, etc.  You’re to become adept at spotting God, the Father of Jesus Christ, in all these things and then, at least once a while – expressing that connection.  

In the baptism we’re about to witness, we’re witnessing the official launching of restored priests into their priestly activity.  Elanor and Beatrice, among those learning the way to bless the LORD.  

·      Brothers and sisters in Christ – Priests – even if you stand by nightbless the LORD.  Even if no one is watching, noticing, approving.  Even if it’s only in your mind, even if you’re alone in your prayer closet…especially then!…bless the LORD.  Our life in Christ as priests begins with a renewal of the mind…where no one can see.  

When I was driving for Lyft I created a Spotify playlist that included the occasional spiritual song.  Sometimes when those came on, with my hand on the wheel I’d just lift up my fingers.  I don’t think any riders ever noticed, but I was acknowledging God in that moment. 

Consider doing this literally some night this week: go outside where it’s dark and bow down or lift up your hands and start listing God’s works.  This is work, it doesn’t have to be emotional.  It’s your human calling.  

·      Brothers and sisters in Christ – Priests – lift up your hands to bless the LORD.  That is, set your schedule, arrange your budget, eat and drink unto the glory of God.  Make specific decisions about sleep, about diet, about entertainment, about purchases…in order to be freed to acknowledging God.  If you start to notice that after watching TV that “God is in none of your thoughts” or that it’s hard for God to be in your thoughts… you need to change the way that you approach TV. 

One final word to those who are not followers of Jesus Christ.  Look again at that last verse: May the LORD bless you from Zion, he who made heaven and earth.  God is the creator of everything: heaven and earth is a merism to denote everything: mountain goats, the color yellow, language, cumulus clouds, electrons, balsam fir, granite, photosynthesis, calcium, marble, laughter, beasts with eyes covering them, memory, baby skin…

I wouldn’t be surprised if sometime in your interaction with some part of the creation you didn’t sense that it was connected to something…Someone… much vaster.  Maybe in one of these fall days you’re out walking, thinking, and you remember something from your past, and some great longing – for something so beautiful that it almost hurts – overtakes you.  Or you’re out in nature and you sense some connection between you and something…something primal…something spiritual.  

Here’s what I’d like you to think about as we conclude: 1.  God has made everything and so it’s natural that all over the place you would sense Him…He’s been here… He is here.  2.  But then, that could turn out to be ultimately confusing: because even though traces of the Creator are everywhere, God is offering life…blessing…from Zion.  Through a particular Priest.  Through Jesus Christ.  I am the way, the Truth, and the Life, no one comes to the Father except through Me.  

What you desire, what you have experienced as beauty and longing, is God…and truly He is everywhere.  But the way to God is not everywhere, but through Jesus.  To come to Jesus is not to crimp your life but to open yourself up to all of the works of God.    

May the LORD bless all of you from Zion/ he who made heaven and earth.  

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