One of the readings used in many churches on Sunday is a passage where Jesus laments, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34). These are powerful words, marked by both pain and love. They are inspiring.
Back in 2002, songwriter Steve Earle wrote a song simply titled, “Jerusalem.” He was singing about the violent reality in the country over a decade ago, yet his words still ring true today:
I woke up this mornin’ and none of the news was good
And death machines were rumblin’ ‘cross the ground where Jesus stood
And the man on my TV told me that it had always been that way
And there was nothin’ anyone could do or say
Is that true? Is there no hope?
Another reading for Sunday would beg to differ. Psalm 27, however, is a bit unusual. The great scholar, Walter Brueggemann, has pointed out that many psalms move from disorientation, where the text is desperate and longing for salvation, to reorientation, meaning that a strong conviction of faith is the conclusion. Psalm 27, however, reverses this paradigm: this text begins on a high note (The Lord is my light and my salvation; the Lord is the stronghold of my life!) but then expresses doubt and fear. One scholar has observed that this text is a bit like a New Year’s resolution made with great hope but withered over time (Richard Stern, Feasting on the Word [Year C, Vol. 2], 59). As I hear frequently on a commercial during Pandora, by mid-February, many are surrounded by chocolate wrappers and looking for a new resolution! Perhaps this relates to the final word of Psalm 27 as a call to patience: “Wait for the Lord, be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Ps 27:14).
But there’s something else here as well. In Hebrew, the word for “wait” shares the lexical root of the word for “hope.” It seems to me that we need an active waiting, hope born out of our fervent desire for things to be better. Steve Earle puts it best:
And I almost listened to him
Yeah, I almost lost my mind
Then I regained my senses again
And looked into my heart to find
That I believe that one fine day all the children of Abraham
Will lay down their swords forever in Jerusalem
I think Brueggemann would approve. From his initial disorientation at the news on television, Earle has reoriented by “regaining his senses.” There is a play on words here; we generally think of “senses” as sight, touch, feel, taste . . . what we can objectively verify in the world around us. Instead Earle “looks into his heart” – the hope we desire may not be obvious; therefore we need to dig deep to find it.