Lent begins early this year, almost the earliest it can begin, on February 10, which means it is just around the corner.
Even when Lent begins at a normal or latish time of year, I am usually not ready. Ash Wednesday finds me unprepared. This year, for some reason, I began thinking about Lent before Epiphany. Oddly, I’ve celebrated Epiphany more fully this year than I usually do, and I wonder if that has something to do with looking ahead, the realization that this season is short, and I want to enjoy every moment of it.
But I also want to be ready for Lent. So over the past few weeks I’ve been thinking about how I will live differently during this somber season. One of my Lenten disciplines, I’ve decided, will be meditating on the Psalms.
Now, I read the Psalms daily and have for twenty years, ever since I bought a Book of Common Prayer (the 1928 edition; of course) when I was studying in England for a term. The Psalms have been my constant companions for my entire adult life. No other book has shaped me so deeply. No other book even comes close (not even Pride and Prejudice!).
Since the Psalms are a big book—there are 150 of them—I’m going to take a smaller chunk, the Psalms of Ascent (Psalms 120-134), upon which to meditate. These seem particularly appropos during Lent, for the Psalms of Ascent are pilgrim songs, sung by the people of Israel as they journeyed to Jerusalem for the three major feasts of their liturgical year: Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. So these psalms are songs that Jesus and His disciples likely sang as they walked the roads of Palestine on that fateful final journey. They are called Psalms of Ascent because Jerusalem is built on a hill, Mount Zion, and all the pilgrims had to ascend the hill to reach the city, and the temple at its center.
As Christians we are a pilgrim people—this world is not our home—and we serve a pilgrim God who was not content to remain at home in Heaven but came to us, lived among us. He tabernacled with the Israelites as they sojourned in the desert, and He tabernacled in the flesh of Jesus of Nazareth as He sojourned on this earth, His feet dusty from the roads of Galilee in the north to Judea in the south.
During Lent we get to journey with Jesus as He makes His way to Jerusalem for the last time. What better songs to sing in this season than these Psalms of Ascent, sojourning songs of the faithful? What better way to prepare for the Triduum than to meditate on these pilgrim songs, songs our Lord Himself sang as He climbed the mountain of the Lord, to offer Himself as our Passover lamb?
If you would like to join me, I will be writing about the Psalms of Ascent every Friday from now until Trinity (May 22), one psalm a week. You can follow along:
February 12: Psalm 120
February 19: Psalm 121
February 26: Psalm 122
March 4: Psalm 123
March 11: Psalm 124
March 18: Psalm 125
March 25 (Good Friday): Psalm 126
April 1: Psalm 127
April 8: Psalm 128
April 15: Psalm 129
April 22: Psalm 130
April 29: Psalm 131
May 6: Psalm 132
May 13: Psalm 133
May 20: Psalm 134