When I heard Karen would be preaching on Psalm 137, with its verses about heads smashing on rocks, I was definitely curious. In what context could we ever include sentiments like these in the word of God?
When we actually read the Psalm, it was worse than I expected. "Happy shall they be who take [the Babylonians'] little ones, and dash them against the rock!" How are we to take this? I was grateful when Jim read this Psalm, he didn't end it with the traditional "This is the word of the Lord." I don't know if I could have responded with the "Thanks be to God" after hearing these cries.
But before we even got into this unsettling Psalm, Karen led the children in prayer during children's time. She had them stand in a circle, and imagine God at the centre. As they prayed, they took steps closer to God, tightening the circle and coming shoulder to shoulder with one another. Prayer brings us closer to God, but it also brings us closer to God's people.
Keeping this circle image in mind and coming back to the Psalm, we learned it was written when the Babylonians had just captured Jerusalem, killing many of the Jewish people, and capturing many others. The author was a survivor so destroyed by this loss, they couldn't even sing. The psalm begins with grief, and ends in anger - enough anger to wish upon his enemies the same pain and suffering he feels.
And even now, 2500 years later, we feel this same grief and anger. This is the grief and anger of people all over the world, past and present, who've had everything taken from them and feel like nothing is left. It's hard to see, hard to accept, hard to feel, it makes us uncomfortable. But it exists. And seeing this pain and suffering opens us up to see the mercy of God, to see God's compassion and care, even when situations seem impossible.
So much of this morning pointed to beauty. Our responsive Psalm 84 showed us, Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young. The Vivaldi duet brought me near tears with the beauty of the music and the soaring voices. The church building and the faces of the friends beside me in the pews-it was a beautiful morning. It was a lot to hold in my heart this dichotomy of a God of beauty, and a God who allows the atrocities that make a god-fearing man want to smash babies heads on rocks.
It was a great relief to sing, Will your anchor hold. Its familiar refrain reassuring that despite waves of feelings of grief and anger, and even feelings of great beauty, God is a steady anchor. While it's important to allow ourselves to be unsettled by the pain people feel, it doesn't need to be the end. God's mercy is complete and God's justice is sure.
We have an anchor that keeps the soul
Steadfast and sure while the billows roll,
Fastened to the rock which cannot move,
Grounded firm and deep in the Saviour's love.