Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Reaching for true Koinonia with the Psalmist: Meditating on, and Praying for, true Unity

Nowhere in the Psalter is the unity which God looks for, and will provide, declared more clearly and forcefully than in the very short Psalm 133, which is a Psalm of David. Here it is from the RSV with explanatory comment.

Behold, how good and pleasant it is
When brothers dwell together in unity!

The Psalm begins with the citing of a proverb: “See how good and how lovely it is! Brothers living together even as one.” It arises in a social situation which does not exist in western countries today and which, from within modern individualism, we find difficult to envisage. Yet it is still found in other places of the world, in the Middle East, Asia and Africa, for example. That is, a society based upon the solidarity of the extended family and of the tribal unit, and with property held in common. Where this solidarity works well then it has been and remains very wholesome and sweet indeed. (See further, Deuteronomy 25:5-10 and Genesis 38.) David himself came from a large family and thus was very much integrated into the social structure assumed here.

Two metaphors are used by David to lift this proverb from the ideal of basic family and tribal cohesion to the communion, fellowship and unity of those who gather together before God to worship him in the sanctuary.

It is like the precious oil upon the head,
Running down upon the beard,
Upon the beard of Aaron,
Running down to the collar of his robes.

The indescribably good feeling of genuine fellowship of heart and mind before God is first of all presented as like the rich oil of unction (with its accompanying fragrance) not only upon the head but overflowing on to the beard of the high priest, Aaron, down to the very collar of his high priestly vestments (see for details of the ceremony Exodus 29:7, 21; Leviticus 8:12; & Exodus 30:22-33). We are to understand by this picture the differentiation of the priest and the robes and also, at the same time, the unifying reality of the oil and its fragrance covering priest and robes.

It is like the dew of Hermon,
Which falls on the mountains of Zion!

The picture here is of the heavy dews of Mt Hermon bringing moisture to the thirsty lands below it, and being extended, to cover the smaller hills of Mt Zion. This is a picture of the abundant blessings of the LORD coming “from above” to his people on earth, specifically as gathered together in the Temple of Jerusalem, and united by his gracious favors.

The second half of verse 3 , with its emphasis upon the initiative of God himself (“the LORD commanded”) and on what is only his to give (“life for evermore”) also underlines what has been communicated earlier by a threefold repetition, partly lost in most translations: literally, “descending” (2a)… “descending” (2b)…”descending” (3a). That is, true unity of God’s people is from above, bestowed rather than contrived, and a blessing rather than an achievement.

For there the LORD has commanded the blessing,
Life for evermore.

Recalling that David is the writer, and that “there” is Jerusalem, where Israel met in God’s courts and where heaven and earth united, we cannot avoid noting that it was also “there” (2 Samuel 11:1) that the same David was to bring that discord which would spread throughout the whole land and kingdom. Where there is the possibility of great blessing and unity, there is also the possibility – due to human weakness and sinfulness – of great division.


Obviously this Psalm speaks to us at both the level of family life and of congregation and diocesan life. Broken and divided families – even nuclear families – are as common as united ones in our society. And divisions within the members of the Anglican Way are in North America regrettably notorious by being so common, even the “normal” state of affairs. That is, they simply follow the same pattern as found within the American “supermarket of religions” where pragmatism, opportunism, individualism and utilitarianism cause groups to do their own thing on their own, with little relation to others who are very similar and basically of the same faith and practice.

How urgently and how desperately do we who are Anglicans/Episcopalians and claim to be “orthodox” and “biblical” need to ponder this Psalm and then turn to the New Testament for its filling out and fulfillment – from Jesus (John 17); from Paul (Romans 12; Ephesians 4) and John (1 John) and Peter (1 Peter 2). God the Father through Christ the Lord and by the Holy Spirit gives the gift of unity and it is for us to accept it and work out what it means to be one in Christ, for after all there is One Baptism, One Lord, one Faith and One God and Father!

See further the essay/meditation on Unity.

Anglican Unity
Is Unity, not in Uniformity but in Comprehensiveness of churchmanship & style, possible in 2006 for Anglicans, both in America and world-wide?

A discussion starter from one who does not know the full answer!

The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon MA., D.Phil (Oxford)

No comments: