From the Pastor’s Desk: Rev. Simon Lee
Dear brothers and sisters of RCAC,
Do you yearn to be back at church? I do. It has been 14 months since the lockdown of the church due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When it started, I was hoping that it would last maybe till the end of the summer of 2020. Then it stretched to the end of the year and we had hoped with the beginning of vaccination, we should be back by the end of the summer of 2021. But now with the new variants of the virus spreading rapidly, with over 1000 cases each day, and the shortage of the vaccines, it seems the end is nowhere to be seen. I hope that we are all keeping well, but we all yearn for the day when it is safe to return.
The psalmist (of the Sons of Korah) once wrote of a remarkably similar experience of yearning, though of course in a very different situation, and we find it in Psalm 84. A probable scenario was the writer could not go to Jerusalem to worship, maybe to celebrate one of the three annual feasts (Ex. 23:17; 34:23), for whatever reason. His sole desire was to “appear before God in Zion.” (7) He “desperately want to (“my soul longs, it even pines for”) be in the courts of the Lord’s temple.” (2a) What can he do? How can he deal with such a hopeless situation? What can he teach us for our situation today?
1. Maintain your delight in the Lord (1-4)
In the pandemic, instead of sitting around bored and miserable, or trying to do all sort of things to fill the void, we can see how the psalmist maintains his focus on the delight of going to the temple to worship God. He describes the temple as “lovely” or “beautiful.” It is lovely not necessarily because of the architecture, important as that is, but because it is “the place where God (you) lives,” His house (4, 10) and the place where God’s glory dwells (Ps 26:8). Yet we also know that God cannot be contained in man-made buildings (Acts 7:45-50). So, while to pay special respect for the house of God dedicated for His worship and yearn to be there, we can also worship God anywhere. The heart of the psalmist is always yearning to worship, with joy, the living God (2). The psalmist is even envious of the birds and the swallow that can nest in the temple courts, to be near the altars of the Lord of hosts (the heaven’s army). By that he means that one is “blessed” to “live in your temple and praise God continually.” (4) So even though today we cannot physically be at the Church where we gather to worship as a community, we can still meet virtually together, or meet God personally wherever we are, enjoying being in his presence. We know that one day our delight and hope will become a reality. May it be soon.
2. Draw your strength from the Lord (5-8)
“Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.” (5, ESV) We find our strength in the Lord, and we can approach Him anytime as if there is a map to God (Zion) written on our hearts, and we can be like the pilgrims who are on their way. The number of pilgrims grows bigger as they drawn near to the temple. They have gone through the valley of Baca (weeping or affliction) that God has turned into a spring. The rain has covered the dry valley will pools of water. What a meaningful picture of God’s blessings on all who seek to draw near to God. Whatever difficulties or pain we are experiencing, God can turn them into fountains of joy. It is interesting to note that while the throngs of pilgrims travel together, we note that “each appears before God in Zion.” (7) We draw strength from drawing to God both as a community and as individuals. This we can continue to do in the pandemic.
3. Put your trust in the Lord (9-12)
The psalmist recognized that it is a blessing to be able to put his trust in the Lord of host. (12) To be in the house of God for a day is better that spending a thousand days elsewhere. (10a) It would already be a privilege to just stand at the gate (doorkeeper?) of the house of the Lord, and it is certainly much better than living in the tents of the wicked (10b). The fact that the psalmist was of the sons of Korah may give us a clue as to why he sees this as such an honour. Levites in their service also guarded the sanctuary (I Chron. 9:19). Korah was a Levite who rebelled against God and Moses and was slain (Num. 16:26). However, his children (sons of Korah) were spared and continued to serve at the temple (Num 26:11). Therefore, the psalmist declared, “For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.” (11) We are blessed by a God who is merciful and can be trusted, even though we are unworthy. No matter what background we may have or whatever past we have come from, we can always draw near to God. The only think we must do is to live with integrity. Many of us also recognize it is a joy to serve God whatever role we may have, be it big or small, even during this pandemic.
May we yearn to be in the house of God!
Your servant in Christ,
Rev. Simon Lee