I’ve decided to ignore all the other weightier readings for this Sunday and just focus on the psalm which seems meaty enough for Lent. Psalm 121 is the first of the Songs of Ascents and might have been used during a pilgrimage. The singer is looking up at the hills where she presumably is going.
What are these hills? Are they entirely benign as in the refrain from The Sound of Music, “I go to the hills when my heart is lonely,” or are the hills ambiguous, sources of danger, wild animals, shadows, unknown threats? We don’t really know, but in my version of the psalm, the next part is a question, “from where will come my help?”
The singer needs assistance on this journey and she answers her own question, or perhaps it’s a communal response, “my help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.” Is she simply bragging here about how powerful her God is, as if my god were bigger and badder than your god?
The rest of the psalm refutes that suggestion. God is not just the creator who made heaven and earth but a shepherd who keeps and looks after his people. God becomes the subject of the psalm, he keeps us, our whole lives, even in our coming and going, through birth, death and all manner of changes, we are kept.
I work in a middle school and transitions between classes or to buses are always when bad stuff happens because the students are not under anyone’s direct supervision. God, says the psalmist boldly, won’t abandon us in those dangerous times. We might abandon God or quit the journey but God is still there, forevermore.