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The Ascent Psalms: Great Traveling Companions

As Easter approaches, what can we do differently this year to approach history’s most seminal event, Christ Jesus’ resurrection and ascension?   Please join me in considering taking a page from ancient Israel’s practice by looking at The Ascent Psalms.


Jerusalem today.

If we were contemporaries, for example, of Mary and Joseph in the 1st century, this would be the time we’d be planning a pilgrimage to Jerusalem—as the couple did when their oldest son, Jesus, was twelve.  The occasion? Passover.

For Jews, there were three yearly feasts the Book of Deuteronomy* directed the people to follow and around which the calendar revolved. All hopefully included a trip to The City of David.

  • The spring feast of Passover commemorating the liberation from Egypt and the very heart of Israelite religion.
  • The summer feast of Pentecost celebrating the beginning of the barley harvest.
  • The autumn feast of booths or tabernacles (called “Succoth” by Jews today).

Whichever of the three trips to Jerusalem you might take, one of your most treasured companions would be ‘the Psalms of Ascent’ — prayers sung as you literally walked up to the holy city, built on hills from its most ancient founding.

From whatever corner of the Empire pilgrims traveled to the City of David, Psalms 120-134 could be heard sung from every direction of the dusty roads they trekked.

These ‘pilgrimage hymns’, as they’re also called, are one of the collections that constitute the larger book V of the Psalter, which is itself one of five hymnal books combined to create the 150 Psalms we know today.

As we prepare for our spiritual journey this season of renewal and recommitment, it’s worth exploring these special prayers Israel treasured to see how they might inspire us 20 centuries later. What if, in preparation for Easter, we were to read and pray with these 15 Psalms to recommit to what Christ Jesus’ resurrection means to us today?

For example, there is a broad pattern in these 15 prayers or hymns that we can apply to our own spiritual growing:

I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the Lord!

  • Setting out on the journey ( 121:1)

I lift up my eyes to the hills—
from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.

  • The arrival filled with joy ( 133:1)

How very good and pleasant it is
    when kindred live together in unity!

Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord,
    who stand by night in the house of the Lord!
Lift up your hands to the holy place,
    and bless the Lord.

I’d love to hear your own experience working with these rich prayers of praise. Please share your ‘journey’ with us all.

*All your men must appear before God, your God, three times each year at the place he designates: at the Feast-of-Unraised-Bread (Passover), at the Feast-of-Weeks, and at the Feast-of-Booths. No one is to show up in the Presence of God empty-handed; each man must bring as much as he can manage, giving generously in response to the blessings of God, your God. Deut. 16:16-17 


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March 4, 2016 5:54 am

I love the beautiful psalms sung when approaching the feasts. What a great value it puts on our attending church services today! Thank you so much for sharing this!

Anne Cooling
Anne Cooling
March 25, 2016 1:11 am

I love thinking about Jesus praying with Ps 116-118 in the Garden of Gethsemane, so powerful. Thank you for this image of them singing on their journey.

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