Songs of Ascents

2/8/2018

 


Rev. Edwin Mung

 

  The authors of the songs of ascents, who recorded the experience of “ascension,” reflect upon difficulties, oppression, and captivity. Yet with the Lord’s guidance the hardships were overcome, and then they returned home, rebuilt and settled down in a new and stable life. In their ascension, the poets experienced revival, renewal and hope. Christians can reflect and reexamine their lives as they are on a journey, and record their experience of the Lord’s companionship in the past, just as the poets did in their songs of ascent.

  The songs of ascents refers to the fifteen psalms between Psalm 120 to 134. Each of these pieces is entitled “song of ascents.” Traditionally, there are a few interpretations of the songs of ascents:

  First, these are the psalms sung during the return from captivity. Secondly, they are sung during a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Thirdly, they are sung as the Israelites ascended the steps in the temple. Therefore, they are also known as the “songs of steps. The StudiumBiblicum called these fifteen psalms “the songs of temple ascension.”

  The fifteen songs of ascents were included in the fifth scroll of the Psalm (Psalm 107-150). Originally it was a collection of songs, therefore they could be considered the songs of songs. All of them tend to be short, thus could be easily memorized. Some scholars think that they were meant to be sung not just by one individual or a priest, but also by a group of Israelites, or in a choir of pilgrims, or sung in pairs.

  The focus of the songs of ascents is Zion, as the resting place for God (Psalm 9:11; 74:2; 76:2). The poets, through their life experiences, declare their faith and hope, and encourage others to return to the very origin of the created world and salvation: the true God.

  The songs of ascent reflect on the journey of faith, as such they are relevant to modern travelling, reminding us that life is like a journey, with its ups and downs and myriad experiences and perspectives. The final destination is the Lord’s resting place, where one stays within God’s presence.

  Both Christians and non-Christians travel. They go to different places to observe the culture and the local customs, appreciate the historic sites and beautiful scenery, and enjoy great cuisines. Yet Christians can bring along a mission as they travel. They can, in the midst of a journey, reflect upon their lives.

  The second mission for Christians as they travel is to go on pilgrimage. A pilgrimage is where one desires to come closer to the Lord. The “ideal” pilgrimage destinations may be the Holy Land, (Israel and Jerusalem), in which one can see the Lord’s foot prints in the people, history and geography of Israel. By journeying in the Holy Land, the pilgrim deepens the bonds with the Lord.


  Yet “pilgrimage” is not limited to the Holy Land. In any journey, as long as one having the attitude and taking the actions in seeking the Lord, then it is a pilgrimage. Be it a three-day journey in China, or a three-month around-the-world flare, as long as one seeks a closer bond with the Lord, experiences the Lord’s presence, enjoys fellowship with fellow disciples, and worship, then it is a pilgrimage.


  The third mission for Christians traveling is to preach the Good News. In recent years, there has been a trend in holding evangelical and preaching events on a boat trip. This alternative way of evangelism fits one of the core themes of the songs of ascent: the great news of returning home from captivity. In the past, the Israelites reneged on their promises to God and breached the covenant, resulting in their enslavement. The return to home from captivity is good news, just like the Good News. It is a journey to declare the experience of redemption.


  Disciples should seize all opportunities to spread the Good News during their journey. Through traveling, they can encourage those fellow tour members to think about life, to learn about the Good News, and to accept the Lord’s redemption. As the journey concludes, others can be led to explore the question, “where is our final destination?” Those friends, family and fellow tour members who are yet to be Christians can become pilgrims. With a carefully planned itinerary, the history and theology of the Bible and Jesus’ love can be brought forth, sowing the seeds of personal salvation. This seed will grow in God’s wonderful timing. Fellow tour members who decided to accept the Lord should be followed-up with by the church once they return home.


  To run a missional tour, it is necessary to rely on service by a missional tour agency. Furthermore, it requires missional tour guides and a pastor on the tour. With appropriate itinerary and guidance, it will help brothers and sisters reflect on their faith and to preach the Good News, with the same purpose as the songs of ascents, where one “ascends” toward our heavenly father.