Lilly Ann asked me to comment on Psalms 121 to 134, which were important to her and Herb in the last weeks of his life. These are the “Psalms of Ascent,” short poems that the Judaeans would sing as they took the long, hard pilgrimage to worship at the Temple on Mount Moriah. The first Psalm of Ascent begins by looking at the countryside that Herb loves so much and calling on the creator of the hills to be our personal help: “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence comes my help. My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” (Psalms 121:1-2)
Herb was not walking to mount Moriah, but he was ascending to heaven. One of the main points of the book of Hebrews is that an earthly temple is no longer our destination; instead, God has better things waiting in heaven for us. This was Herb’s ascent. In Hebrews, our pilgrimage is to “a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made of hands … “ (Hebrews 9:11). The earthly Temple, the most beautiful building in the world, was but a “shadow of heavenly things” (Hebrews 8:5) and “a shadow of good things to come. “ (Hebrews 10:1) Herb had the faith to know he was on the road to the heavenly temple and his new heavenly body. Herb knows that the God of creation is the God of his help, the God of the new creation to come.
Paul also knew this. In 2 Corinthians, he encouraged a group of confused, sad, and imperfect Christians, reminding them that the power that created the world and raised Jesus from the dead is at work even in suffering, even as bodies and minds fall apart:
“For God, who commanded the light to shine out of the darkness, has shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; … Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise UP US also by Jesus, and shall present us with you.” (2 Cor 4:6-8)
“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. … For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality may be swallowed up of life.” (2 Cor 4:17-18; 5:1, 4)
Herb’s body in his casket was a shadow of his former self, but that is not him. Herb’s resurrection body will be so vivid and real that we will say Herb in his earthly prime was just a shadow of his true self. Herb knew this and I have to think that’s why the Psalms of Ascent spoke so clearly, describing the mountains and valleys of life, from the joy of family to the pain and fear of a broken world.
(We saw this combination of joy and sadness at work when, just a week ago Friday, we were able to bring Herb’s 12th grandchild and 7th grandson, Benjamin Arthur McFarland, just three days old, to spend a few short minutes in Herb’s arms before Herb continued upward.)
After surveying all of life, The Psalms of Ascent end with worship in Psalm 134: “Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, and bless the Lord.” (134:2) After 45 years worshiping with the choir here, Herb has climbed the mountain to the better tabernacle not made with hands, and now he is worshiping in a light that will never fade, the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Let us persevere as he did until we meet again.