In the days before iPods, iPads, smart phones and portable DVD players, when it was time to take a trip, you would settle in the backseat and be handed a book! If you were very young perhaps it was a coloring book. In the days before cards, and before widespread literacy, travelers, especially pilgrims—those traveling to a religious location for a worshipful purpose—would share tales, stories, with each other to pass the time. Perhaps, way back in your mind, you remember high school literature class and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, a collection of pilgrim stores told on the journey to Canterbury Cathedral. But even before that is an earlier tradition of singing ballads and songs to pass the time. Eventually, the songs because almost as meaningful as the destination itself.
In ancient Israel, as the people of God were in a common land, they would come together several times a year for special feasts or celebrations, gathering from all over Jerusalem to renew their covenant with God and celebrate his grace. As Jerusalem was the highest point in Palestine, everyone would have to go up, or ascend, to arrive at the holy city. Thus, the songs on their journey, the subset of Psalms they sang became knows as the Psalms of Ascent. Generation after generation of Israelite children listened to their elders sing these songs on their way to worship, and they eventually added their voices to the chorus of God’s praise. Since these pilgrimages to Jerusalem lasted until the Roman armies destroyed the Temple, scattering the Jews to the winds, we know that our Lord Jesus himself traveled to Jerusalem to worship from an early age (Luke 2:41-42) and no doubt he learned and then sang these songs himself!
The Bible shows that the Christian life is a journey to our heavenly homeland through a world that is not our home. We are pilgrims, travelers heading to a religious location for the purpose of worship! However, things like mortgages, college-planning, and careers anchor us to this life so profoundly that we live and think as settlers rather than pilgrims. In his good providence, our God has provided gifts such as the Psalms of Ascent to call our hearts back to the road and to call us back to the life of a pilgrim, struggling to be faithful in a world in which we just do not fit, where we can sense things are not whole. These 15 songs are balm to our hearts in a world that brings discontentment, pain and temptation while at the same time offering pleasure, happiness and beauty.
So my fellow pilgrims, I invite you to join the Boston North family as we dive into the life of a pilgrim by journeying through these honest and poignant songs on Sunday mornings this summer. You can hear the sermons we have studied so far here.