Brothers (Psalm 133)
- Order of Service: Prayer & Preaching
- Hymns: LSB #833, 492, 478, 462
Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! (Psalm 133:1)
As the oldest of ten, I can testify that it is good and pleasant when brothers get along. A prayer many of the mothers have prayed many times over the years. When brothers and sisters are united in the love that is shared in the bond between them, life is very good and pleasant.
But the Psalm isn't just talking about the physical family. It is primarily talking about the eternal and mystical family of the holy Christian Church on earth. The mystical family waiting for the eternal Bridegroom to bring His Bride into Heaven. The new Jerusalem. The wife of the Lamb (Revelation 21:9). From whence the river of life flows (Revelation 22:1). As Christ's Bride, the Church is the mother of all Christians. The mother who prays for her children to "dwell in unity" (v1).
Father Patrick Henry Reardon, pastor of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, IL, wrote the book Christ in the Psalms. From which I've gleaned many insights for our journey through the Psalms this year. The book began as bulletin inserts. Meditations on the Psalms being prayed that morning during the Eucharist. His insights on Psalm 133 are so great that I can't help but read them to you (emphasis added):
- Psalm 132 (Hebrew 133) is arguably among the loveliest of small compositions in Holy Scripture: "Behold how good and delightful a thing, for brothers to abide as one; like balsam on the head, descending on the beard, the beard of Aaron, descending to the hem of his robe; like the dew of Hermon, descending on the mountains of Zion. For there the Lord decreed blessing, life for evermore."
- This translation preserves a delicate but structurally important feature of both the Hebrew and the canonical Greek texts; namely, the psalm has only one finite verb, and it is found in the final line: "decreed" (eneteilato, tsivvah). The blessing in this psalm is a matter of God's command and ordinance.
- Now the blessing (eulogian, berakah) decreed of the Lord is everlasting life (zoen heos tou aionos, haiim 'ad ha'olam), and He decreed it in the holy mountains of Zion. This is Jerusalem, which appears in the final chapters of Revelation as the home of those brothers who abide as one. This is the ultimate meaning of "good and delightful." It is eternal life.
- The place of the Lord's decree, "there," is accented in both the Greek (ekei) and the Hebrew (sham). The blessing of this psalm is not some sort of general benediction poured out at random; it is specified, rather, with respect to place. It is defined and fixed in the institutions of the holy city of Jerusalem, especially in the priesthood, most particularly in the high priesthood of Aaron. That is to say, the blessing decreed by the Lord is related to the consecration of that priesthood by which the people of God is defined as a priestly people and holy nation.
- The emphasized "there" of the last verse stands in structural parallel and contrast with the earlier sense of "here" conveyed by the "behold" (idou, hinneh), with which the psalm begins. The poem commences, then, with the atmosphere and feeling of presence. Accordingly, there are no verbal sentences; the action in these early verses is entirely conveyed, as in both the Hebrew and Greek, by an infinitive, "to abide," and the threefold repetition of a single participle, "descending."
- Moreover, this steady descent is described so as to suggest the slow flowing down of a consecratory blessing, and the same words for "descending" are used for both the priestly oil and the dew on Hermon in both the Greek (katabainon) and the Hebrew (yared). This sustained blessing is also conveyed by the advancing flow of the ointment, poured out in consecration on the high priest's head, then oozing down to saturate his priestly beard, before flowing onto the hem of his priestly vestment. The "oil" of the Hebrew (shemen) is enriched and sweetened to "balsam" (myron) in the Greek text.
- The high priest's beard is mentioned twice in connection with this bountiful anointing, portraying the accumulated saturation of the blessing into this supreme symbol of his manhood. (Indeed, Holy Scripture is very strict on the point. The priest may not shave his beard, and the man who can't grow a beard cannot be a priest.)
- Beneath the beard of the high priest there hangs from his neck a pectoral of stones on which are engraved the names of Israel's twelve tribes. When he comes to appear before the Lord, Aaron thus bears all of Israel upon his breast, directly in the path of the descending ointment of his sacerdotal consecration. The whole people of God is rendered holy in his priesthood. The oneness celebrated in this psalm is the unity of God's people gathered in worship with their priest.
- This pervasive situation is high and exotic poetry, of course. Indeed, the picture of the heavy dew descending all the way from Mount Hermon, up in Syria, down to Jerusalem in Judah can only be introduced in a poetic context already conditioned by the psalm's earlier and more plausible images.
- The priesthood of Aaron is, moreover, the ministry prepatory to the definitive priesthood of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is He who ever lives to make intercession for us (cf. Heb. 7:25). "For brothers to abide as one" is the blessing given to the Church, described in St. Paul's epistles as the "body of Christ" and in St. John's Gospel as the vine with its branches. Our unity is in Christ, and more specifically in that unchangeable priesthood by which He ministers in heaven on our behalf, the one mediator between God and man. There the Lord decreed blessing.
The Church is the place where God has decreed His blessing of unity. The Church is where He dispenses this unity to His people through His servants. Tabernacle worship in David's time. Temple worship in Jesus' time. Congregational worship in our time.
In every time, God has chosen a representative from His people to guide them in worship (Hebrews 5:1). In Genesis, He ordained the head of the household to be the family's priest. After the Exodus, He ordained Aaron and his descendants as the high priest in Israel. In the Babylonian Captivity, the rabbis were ordained to shepherd the scattered peoples of Israel in their synagogues. In the Church, He ordained pastors to guide the congregations in each city.
It is "good and pleasant ... when brothers dwell in unity" (v1). God takes His pastors out of the midst of His congregations. So we have the one hundred twenty-eight men who received calls from our two seminaries. They will go into their new congregations this summer. To replace previous pastors just as St. Matthias was elected to replace Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:26).
Matthias was one of the disciples who had followed Jesus since He was baptized by John. He had seen and heard everything that Jesus did and said (Acts 1:21-22). He came from the midst of all the disciples to be elevated to the position of Apostle. Not to take charge. To serve the Church. Not to be the greatest. To be the least. Because the great responsibility of the Office of the Keys was laid upon him. He would follow in the path of Aaron and every other representative God has called to dwell in unity with His Church.
What is this unity in the Office of the Keys? The burden that is placed upon the pastor. And it is a heavy burden. Because the pastor carries the congregation around with him. This is what we hear in the Catechism: "The Office of the Keys is that special authority which Christ has given to His church on earth to forgive the sins of repentant sinners, but to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent." The pastor is given the Office of the Keys just as Aaron was given the office of the sacrifices. The Church gives the pastor the Office so that he might be the representative of God to the people and the people to God. In this unity, we worship as a congregation.
Among the high priestly vestments was the breastplate. Sewn into the breastplate were twelve precious stones. On each of these stones was engraved the names of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Whenever Aaron performed his office as high priest, he carried the whole nation of Israel on his heart. So also, when I perform my office. When I enter this sanctuary, ascend these steps, approach this altar, I carry you upon my shoulders because of the stole--Christ's yoke--placed upon me at my ordination. As your pastor, I carry YOU before the Lord as we worship together in unity. As Jesus prayed for us on Maundy Thursday (John 17:20-21).
Father Patrick reminds us, "Our unity is in Christ, and more specifically in that unchangeable priesthood by which He ministers in heaven on our behalf, the one mediator between God and man. There the Lord decreed blessing." Jesus ascended into Heaven so that He might intercede personally for us before the Father. In the same way He interceded for us in His high priestly prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, He sits on His throne at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. Ruling by intercession. Praying for us. That we might be united in Him. United in Him as we listen to God calling us to fulfill the Church's mission (LSB #833). "You will be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8).
But, in that intercession, He continues to reveal to us, "Behold, I am coming soon" (Revelation 22:12). Christ's intercession will soon be over. He will come again, in the clouds, just as the angels told the disciples (Acts 1:10-11). Our united witness that we shall "reign forever and ever" in Heaven and "have the right to the tree of life and ... enter the city by the gates" (Revelation 22:5, 14). These gates are the united witness brought to us by the Twelve Tribes of Israel--the gates of the new Jerusalem (Revelation 21:12)--through the interpretation of the Twelve Apostles--the city of God's foundation (Revelation 21:14). This united witness of Old and New Testaments gives us the assurance that Jesus' intercession for us is true. That He will come back to bring us to live forever with Him. United in the pure and true humanity which was lost in the Fall.
The Fall that broke the unity of brothers. The Fall that made the Father send the Son in order to redeem mankind. To reestablish the unity. To bring peace and tranquility upon the Church. The Church who nurtures us as a mother nurtures her children. Nurtures her children to the "life forevermore" God has decreed through her.
As we celebrate our physical mothers today, let us celebrate their nurture as the blessing God has designed them for. Let us all come together and "dwell in unity" (v1). Let the mothers be a blessing to their children "like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion" (v3). Nourishing their children has God has nourished each of us through our eternal mother, the Church. Amen.
Lord Jesus, You who are our Peace with the Father, because by Your blood You have reconciled us to Him, grant and preserve peace in Church and State, and teach us who dwell under the same roof to be of one heart and one mind. Remove from us all envy and strife, and let Your peace dwell in our hearts that we may live and die in peace. Amen.