In the Lectionary

November 15, 33A (Psalm 123)

In times like these, we need heaven.

I never had any use for heaven. The Chris­tians in my life who focused on the pearly gates and the sweet by-and-by refused to take any real responsibility for this messy world. They were looking up when they should be looking down. They were looking for God to provide and be generous to them instead of looking at what they could provide to others in the more equitable sharing of wealth. They were comfortably waiting for death, enduring life’s inconveniences, clucking their tongues at the immoral and improper, and halfheartedly uttering, “Well isn’t that a shame,” before getting back to their easy, insulated existences.

But then my mom died. I was 29 years old. She and I had been estranged in my earlier twenties but, thankfully, recovered a relationship before she was diagnosed with an aggressive and terminal cancer. The time between diagnosis and death was two months. Because of my young age, the speed at which it happened, and the abhorrent indignities I watched her suffer, I felt abandoned, betrayed, and traumatized in ways I never had before. It was the first time I suffered a grief I knew could not heal in the short span of my lifetime. Nothing could ever make it right. My broken heart cried out so many times, “There has to be more than this. This cannot be all there is for her, for me, for us.” I needed to get to heaven. And I needed a song to sing on my way there.

I found the songs for my journey in the 15 psalms commonly known as the psalms of ascent (120–134). These ancient songs were first sung by God’s people as they traveled long roads to the temple in Jerusalem during communal feasts and personal pilgrimages. They express the sojourner’s unwavering hope in God’s presence, provision, and power amid all of life’s sufferings. In every psalm of ascent you will find the certainty of an eternal heavenly destination rooted in the difficulty of temporal earthly experiences.