Bible Reading: Psalm 121
I lift up my eyes to the hills - where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip - he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel, will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you - the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm - he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.
We lived on the East coast of Norfolk for four years, but it was only when we moved to Sheffield that I realised how much I had missed the hills and mountains. Whilst the flat land and vast skies of East Anglia have their own particular beauty, there is nothing quite like rolling hills and mountain grandeur.
Whenever I think of Psalm 121, I think of a little tiny church at Capel y Ffin, situated in a deep valley on the road between Abergavenny and Hay-on-Wye. With an interior just 26 by 13 feet (8 by 4 metres) the eighteenth century church is one of the smallest in Wales with plain white walls and simple wooden benches. One of its surprises is a beautiful modern etched window bearing the opening words of this psalm, silhouetted against the rising mountains behind. The view is stunning and brings alive the words of the psalm in a unique way.
Psalm 121 is what is known as ‘a song of ascents’, one of the Pilgrim Psalms (Psalms 120 - 134 in the Bible). Many scholars believe that these were sung by pilgrims travelling up to Jerusalem for one of the great Jewish festivals. The journey was both arduous and dangerous. I imagine whole families singing as they walked to keep their spirits up and prevent the inevitable cries of “Are we nearly there yet?” from the younger members of the group! Jesus himself might have sung this psalm as he travelled to Jerusalem with Mary and Joseph each year for the Feast of Passover (see Luke 2. 41).
The strong theme of dependency on God for help and protection is comforting. The creator God, who made the hills and mountains, is also a God who never slumbers or sleeps. He constantly watches over us. For me, this psalm inspires hope. In this time of Coronavirus, God is watching over our lives. In these days of continuing restrictions, local lockdowns, social distancing and wearing masks, God watches over our comings and goings, and he will continue to do so now and for ever more.
Lord, ever watchful and faithful, we look to you to be our defence and we lift up our hearts to know your help, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.