“How wonderful, how beautiful,
when brothers and sisters get along!
It’s like costly anointing oil
flowing down head and beard,
Flowing down Aaron’s beard,
flowing down the collar of his priestly robes.
It’s like the dew on Mount Hermon
flowing down the slopes of Zion.
Yes, that’s where God commands the blessing,
ordains eternal life.” – Psalm 133, The Message
According to Psalm 133, there is nothing better in all of human existence than being part of a fellowship on a quest. Psalm 133 is a “Psalm of Ascent” that was sung by Jews as they traveled to Jerusalem for various festivals. It begins with a declaration of the sheer goodness of life together. It then compares these relationships to oil (warm and priestly) and dew (surprising and refreshing). The travelers’ storied imaginations would travel back hundreds of years to when their twelve tribes were united, traveling across barren wastelands on the way to the Promised Land, and experiencing together the glad assurance of Aaron’s priestly ministry. They would remember their calling to be a “kingdom of priests” that taught, forgave, and loved one another (Exodus 19:6). The life-giving relationships that sprang up from their common suffering were as if the dew of Mt. Hermon with its lush slopes fell upon arid Jerusalem and caused the desert to bloom. As Jesus taught, life does not consist in an abundance of possessions. It consists in relationships, streams of living water welling up into eternal life. And that is how the Psalm ends: it is here, in the midst of a fellowship on a quest, that God commands the blessing of eternal life. This is the good life, the blessed life. Fellowship is a taste of heaven on earth. Heaven is fellowship. “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3).
The church is meant to be such a fellowship. Peter says that we are a kingdom of priests, exiles wandering through the wilderness towards the heavenly city. But instead we have often turned our Sunday gatherings and our comGroups into destinations themselves. Church involvement has become fulfillment of a duty rather than the refreshment of a disciple. We have forsaken the glorious boredom of marriage and settled for extravagant weekly wedding ceremonies. Why? Because life together is difficult. What truly good thing isn’t? Eugene Peterson said it best in his wonderful book on the Psalm of Ascents, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction:
“Living together in a way that evokes the glad song of Psalm 133 is one of the great and arduous tasks before Christ’s people. Nothing requires more attention and energy. It is easier to do almost anything else.”
That’s what discipleship is: a long obedience in the same direction. And we cannot make it to the end alone. And when we are tempted by our pride to see one another as merely competition or inconvenience, we miss God’s greatest blessing. As Dallas Willard put it, Christianity begins with simply doing “the next right thing,” which he adds will probably involve going to church because you are going to need some help. That is where church begins: help.
Frodo can’t go to Mordor alone. Harry cannot destroy horcruxes alone. They needed a fellowship, even an imperfect one that would fracture and change shape along the way. And we cannot pursue the Jesus life alone. We cannot slay our sin and serve our enemies without help. So let us together look to him, our pioneer who blazed the trail before us, who laid down his life for his friends. He is our Aaron who, instead of precious oil, had a crown of thorns pressed on his head and his own precious blood running through his beard. When he cried out ‘I thirst!,’ instead of the refreshing dew of fellowship, he tasted only the agony of abandonment from his Father and his friends. Why? So we might enter into fellowship with him. Friends, when we are tempted to give up and abandon one another, let us remember that we have his very Spirit within us.
“Rather than habitually neglecting to meet together as some do, let’s ponder how to provoke one another into love and good deeds. Let’s encourage one another all the more as we see the Day of Jesus approaching.” – Hebrews 10:24-25