Fellow Passengers: This week’s Poetry Passage* (Psalm 118) transports me to the fortress of Hornburg at Helm’s Deep, site of one of the great battles in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. The outlook is bleak for the heroic fellowship, as they have been forced to retreat and take refuge at this ancient fortress, where they and 300 of the people of Rohan prepare for battle. As the dwarf Gimli and his friend Legolas the elf examine the army that has been mustered, they understand too well how slim their chances of victory are. Most of the fighters, they remark, have seen too many winters, or too few. They stand at the wall along with their leader, Aragorn, and look out over the ravine of Helm’s Deep, where 10,000 fierce Urukhai, bred for battle in the deep dungeons of Isengard, march in the cold night rain toward the fortress. As the Urukhai lay siege to the Hornburg, Aragorn and company mount a gallant defense, but it is obvious that the cause is lost when the wall is finally breached and the enemy swarms in. But, just when their own strength is failing, the sun rises and the great wizard Gandalf rides in to the rescue with a forest of tree-like creatures, scattering and defeating the enemy, bringing victory and rescue to the besieged survivors of the Hornburg.
The Psalmist could have been scripting such a scene, as he described a city besieged by bee-like enemy battalions, surrounding the fortified faithful with swarming sounds of violence. The outlook must have looked bleak indeed as anguished poet cried out for help. Just when all seemed lost, just when the enemy forces had him surrounded and blazed like flaming thorns, the enduring love of the Lord liberated him from his foes and loosened his tongue for praise. The stone wall held–the very stone that the builders rejected became the cornerstone of hope. Jesus appropriated this passage to define his own liberating mission. People in need, the hungry, the sick, the wounded, the poor, the homeless, the lost, they were suffering under a siege of oppression. The builders – the various leadership groups of the covenant community of Israel – had rejected the concept of a compassionate suffering servant messiah in favor of an imperial conquistador. But it is this very stone of conquest that will ultimately be crushed. The stone of suffering love becomes cornerstone and capstone of our faith and will liberate all who are in anguish.
I remember my Dad talking about sieges. Not military sieges, but ordinary everyday sieges. He would talk about having a siege of head cold or flu, or he would pray for people who had a siege of troubles or sorrows. We have all been besieged by a swarm of difficulties at one time or another. Whether it is an imperial army laying siege or a series of troubles laying siege, the Psalmist gives us some good clues about how to survive the swarm of stinging bees and move beyond siege mentality so we can sing praise songs of liberation. The basic lesson is, don’t trust in human strength. These forces will fail. Don’t trust in worldly power. These forces will fail. Trust in the cornerstone of faith. Trust in the enduring love of the Lord. Trust in the transforming Word of God. Trust in the cornerstone. I am reminded of an old hymn, where the voice of God promises us: The soul that on Jesus doth lean for repose, I will not, I will not desert to his foes. That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake, I’ll never, no never, no never forsake. How firm a foundation! Now there’s some classic “rock” we can surround ourselves with!
How about you? Where does this Poetry Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.