“I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; From where shall my help come?
My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth.”
– Psalm 121:1-2 (NASB)
Walking alongside the birch-lined railroad tracks around the back of the church in Gorham, the wind is against my back most mornings as sunlight falls over the mountains to the east. With well-known Mount Washington rising behind us, and the rest of New Hampshire’s Presidential Range just to the west, it took me a while to learn the name of Mount Moriah. Perhaps it will be my first 4,000 footer. Fifteen miles up and back down, one member told me at coffee hour. We’ll have to get through winter to August before we begin our ascent, though.
As we move through the gospel of John now in worship, we are taken up another Mount Moriah with Jesus, as he seeks to worship at the Temple in Jerusalem. We have moved with John through Jesus’ coming into creation, his being visited by the Spirit at Baptism, the gathering of his first disciples, and the provision he made at his mother’s request for thirsty wedding guests. Now, Jesus rises from the banks of an inland fishing village to walk 120 miles to the center of political and economic activity in his state’s southern reach. Perhaps not unlike the reach we make to places south from the North Country.
Coming to Jerusalem, travelling with others on the way, Jesus likely sung from the same “Psalms of Ascent” we have in our Bibles today. Psalm 121 speaks of the view travelers ascending to the capitol would have looking up toward the top of Israel’s Mount Moriah. Three thousand feet the trail rose up, from the valley they walked through to the goal they sought – the Temple which served to center their faith. No wonder they trembled in anticipation of what was rising before them, and of what they were rising toward.
The beginning of Psalm 121 captures something of their expectation. Someone calls out a question as they climb the trail – “I lift up mine eyes to the hills – from whence comes my help in need?” Another echoes back in return – “My help comes from God, who peoples this world, who fills these heavens!” And so they move through song as they rise, climbing God’s mountain higher, higher. Increasing in faith and praise as they went, they left a song we may sing yet today.
By the time John wrote his life of Jesus, the temple at Jerusalem was mostly in ruins. Laid waste by the Romans who sought to control people through “peace at any price,” there was and remains only a bit of the western wall of the temple left standing. There, or somewhere in the near vicinity, Jesus’ disciples remembered after his death the promise he made them while he was yet alive – to raise up the temple “in three days” should it be destroyed. And in this John realizes that, even should the powers that be seek to destroy the Temple where God had been worshiped in person, God’s Spirit is available to them in the body gathered of Christ (John 2:13-22). Thanks be to God.
If Jesus offered challenge and renewal atop Mount Moriah in Israel, the church entrusted to us in his name is a place we may experience faith anew too. We sing and pray our way together through our life, as Jesus did with others in his. We celebrate the coming of the Spirit on those gathered alongside the river we are given to worship by, including those who gather for baptism and fellowship at the foot of our own Mount Moriah. We even risk seeing what most needs upending in God’s world – and in our own lives – that Christ’s table may be set aright.
As high as a mountaintop, as deep as a well. May this be the grace all meet in Christ here. Amen.
-Pastor Bill Jones, January 22, 2014