How Lovely Is Thy Dwelling Place
I love the 84th psalm. It is a depiction of a particular moment in the life of a person who is tasked with caring for the sanctuary of God. Entering the sacred place, the person observes that in this holiest of holy places a sparrow has built her nest. She is raising her young in a place so holy that humans are afraid to enter into it, because if they do so unbidden or unprepared it is assumed that they will die.
And yet, here is this sparrow. It draws the observer, the composer of this song, up short. The meditation that ensues? The servant's heart opens to a desire to inhabit God's dwelling place as the sparrow does. One day in those precincts is better than a thousand in their own home, among family and friends. That desire for intimacy, and time for intimacy with God is so palpable, so deeply moving and provocative. What a gift to humanity, this psalm.
It is my point of embarkation for the lessons we have today from I Samuel and John. If there were two passages that are more profoundly NOT connected to the sentiments of psalm 84, I would be surprised. Observing Saul's fall from grace with God, and the breaking of his relationship with God and with Samuel is like watching a train wreck in excruciating slow motion detail. As well, of the four crucifixion narratives in the Gospels, this one depicting the death of Jesus is the one I find the most difficult to endure. It is the narrative of the Passion read on Good Friday and it is brutal in its depiction of Jesus' condemnation and death as well as overwhelmingly poignant in it conclusion with his burial.
Saul couldn't get it more wrong: he "takes charge" and offers sacrifices to appease his army (instead of waiting for Samuel and offering them to God). He impulsively condemns his son, Jonathan, to death and then breaks that vow when his men insist on protecting the young man. He fails to follow through on destroying the Amalekites as God commands...pretending instead to save the very best of the plunder "as a sacrifice to God." His sin? Continually assuming that he can set God's agenda, and that his impulsiveness is a better choice than willingness to pace life, and his choices, in closer alignment with God. It all comes to a climax with him grasping at Samuel's robe in a desperate attempt to prevent the prophet from leaving his presence. As the robe tears, Samuel exclaims that God has torn the kingdom from Saul. The first king of Israel, ruling for over 40 years in Israel...and it all comes to naught. Saul's legacy will be revealed in his fall from grace.
As the tragedies of these two narratives draw to their respective, sad conclusions, I find great consolation in the psalm...and in that I also think there is a gateway into hope for us in the face of these tragedies. Our way forward? To remember that our first call from God is toward a mutual, loving abiding with each other and with the Divine. Our desire for that dwelling place is the gateway to a restoration of life, faith, hope and grace; for it is then in those moments that we are able to slow down enough, heed God enough and set down our agendas enough to make room for God to dwell in us--even as that sparrow has been given room to dwell in the holiest of holies.