Sometime, if you get the chance, stand near the walls of the Temple Mount in old Jerusalem and listen. It’s surprisingly quiet, maybe because for the most part, the tumult of daily life goes on below this high point of the city. Listen and you will hear them: birds that have nested in the walls.
Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young,
at thy altars, O Lord of hosts,
my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in thy house,
ever singing thy praise!. (Psalm 84:3-4)
The birds are at the Western Wall as well, nestled into cracks above the folded intentions like so many prayers preparing to fly to heaven.
How lovely is thy dwelling place,
O Lord of hosts! …
blessed is the man who trusts in thee! (Psalm 84:1, 12)
“Lord of hosts” is the name given to God who leads the armies of heaven (“hosts” in Hebrew is tsaba, which means army, war, or warfare). Read Psalm 84 carefully. Four times, God is addressed by this name. But just as the quiet on the temple mount today can belie the noise below, the stillness and joy brought by the Lord of hosts in Psalm 84 keeps enemies at bay.
The psalm is full of joy yet conflict, physical or otherwise, is in the background. Why else call repeatedly on the Lord of the heavenly armies? Why else speak of the strength he gives, and his shield? At the center of the psalm, men on pilgrimage go through “the valley of Baca” — the valley of “tears” — yet they go “from strength to strength” in God. In spite of their distress they find water, refreshment, and hope.
Back to the birds in Psalm 84: they find their homes in God’s altars, in the very place of sacrifice. There is no other reason for an altar, except for sacrifice . . . and there the swallow finds a place “where she may lay her young.”
Wow. I have images of pagans laying children in the burning arms of Moloch — yet this is a far different picture. This is a safe place, a nest: a home.
When our third child was baptized, the priest had us lay him on the altar, offering him to God. I thought of Psalm 84 then. The paradox of it all: that only when we give ourselves and those we love to God, do we truly receive them back from him. It is in the sacrifice — in giving all to him — that we find rest and shelter, strength, protection, home. And when we live under the shadow of the Cross and Christ’s sacrifice, like those birds on that altar, God lifts us above the tumult of the world and gives us peace.
© 2016 Sarah Christmyer
I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1).
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YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE THESE POSTS:
Rocking at the Wailing Wall (on leaving prayer intentions in the Western Wall of the Temple Mount)
2nd Sunday of Lent: Covenant with Abraham (on offering our own son on the altar at baptism)