The Psalms on Jerusalem

King David, Westminster Psalter

King David, Westminster Psalter

“Lord, I love the dwelling place of your house.”

Last week we considered this cry of the Psalms generally, in relation to God’s revealing his name to us. But this week let us examine it specifically, in terms of the place the Psalm has in mind.

In the Psalms, everything leads up to Jerusalem. This might be the most important image the Psalms give us. For though the “Jerusalem which is now,” here below, in the Middle East, “is in bondage with her children, the Jerusalem which is above,” the heavenly city, “is free” (Gal 4:25-26).

The heavenly Jerusalem is, for the Christian, the place of all our desires. “You have come to mount Zion, and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem,” says the Letter to the Hebrews – and then it describes that city: its citizens, its God who dwells in it, and its worship: “and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator,” or high priest, “of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaks better things than that of Abel” (Heb 12:22-24. The new Jerusalem is based on the vision of the old Jerusalem, the Jerusalem of the Psalms.

This is at the culmination of the New Testament, in the final vision, in Revelation: “he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God” (Rev 21:10). The great reward, in the last chapter of the Bible, is “that they may approach the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city” (22:14). The great threat is that “God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city” (22:19).

So we should pray with the Psalmist, “The LORD loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob. . . . All my springs are in thee” (Psalm 87:2, 7). All my springs: the living water, the only water of life, flows from that city on high.

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Three key points the Psalms teach us about Jerusalem – the earthly Jerusalem, as image of the heavenly – are about worship, community, and election.

First, worship. Jerusalem is the place of the Temple. There seems to be some debate about how the words are used, but Mount Zion seems to refer to the hill – one of five, it seems – within Jerusalem where the Temple stood. (It’s possible it also refers to the greater mountain atop which all of Jerusalem is found.)

The people of Israel prayed in their towns, of course, in their houses and synagogues and everywhere else. But the Temple was the place of sacrifice, the place of true worship. To love Jerusalem is to love the Temple, to love true worship. In all our prayers here below we long to go up to that perfect place of prayer, God’s chosen place to meet with us.

Already we have an image of this in our churches, and the Mass, and even the Liturgy of the Hours. We long to join in the perfect worship, the song of the Angels, the song of the Body of Christ.

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Second, community. All Israel comes together in that city. “How good and pleasant it is for brothers to dwell in unity” (Ps 133:1). Of course it is good to have unity and love in our homes, and with our neighbors.

But the true unity is the unity of the whole Church. It is this unity that we long for. Our longing for Jerusalem, for the whole Church gathered around the throne of God, is what motivates our work for unity in our home, in our neighborhoods, and in our parishes. Think globally, act locally: love of Jerusalem motivates love of neighbor.

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Third: election. The people of Israel celebrate being part of God’s chosen people. To be part of that people is precisely not to think that you are the special one. It is sheer gift, God who has given you membership in his people, not us who have claimed it for ourselves.

He has shown us where he dwells. He has come to dwell in our midst: given us a holy city. Let our hearts be always there. Let love of that city motivate our every action and every word:

“If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand be cut off.

If I do not remember you, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth;

If I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy” (Ps 137:5-6).

Are there ways you find the heavenly city unappealing? How could you better set your heart on Jerusalem?

eric.m.johnston

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