Let Thy priests be clothed with righteousness and Thy saints shout for joy.
Psalm 132:9
Whenever a priest puts on his vestments for a liturgical service, there is a prayer that he offers as he puts on each piece. Each prayer is taken from the Psalms. Psalm 132:9 is the prayer that the priest offers as he puts on the Phelonion, the top robe that traditionally is without a seam, which represents the robe that Jesus wore when He was on trial in front of Pontius Pilate, the robe which the soldiers cast lots over at the crucifixion.
As I reflect on this verse and what it means in the life of a priest, and how it relates to the robe of Christ, it reminds us that being righteous in the eyes of God is the highest and most noble pursuit in life. This is an easy sentence to write. It is totally different to live out. Jesus remained in unity with God even as He was being tortured, humiliated, unjustly accused and ultimately murdered. His sense of righteousness was unflinching, unwavering. He didn’t demand justice, even though He had every reason to. He didn’t complain about unfair treatment, even though people present, even the powerful Pontius Pilate could see that the charges against Him were a sham. He didn’t call on twelve legions of angels, as He could have, to not only get Him out of His predicament but to wreak vengeance upon His unjust accusers. The Bible says that He remained silent. He remained righteous. In similar manner, priests are to clothe themselves with righteousness, to be unflinching in the face of opposition.
Will the results of this upcoming election potentially make my ministry harder? Will it make it harder to be a Christian? Perhaps. Has the current pandemic made ministry harder? Had it been challenging to our Christianity? Without a doubt. The goal is to remain righteous, to continue to do right in the eyes of God. A wise Hierarch of the church used to tell his priests, especially when they were in the face of opposition, “Kanis ti doulia sou,” in Greek, which means, “do your work.” When things aren’t going well, either in my personal life, or in my parish, or in society at large, I try to remember these words, and just do my work, which is to clothe myself with righteousness and stay faithful to God. Indeed, this is the work for all of us.
Let’s talk about the saints shouting for joy. The word we translate as saint is “agios” which means “holy,” and “holy” means “set apart.” In our lives, we can act “righteous” but we won’t be righteous at all times. Therefore, there are in reality no righteous people, only people who act righteously, in the sense that they are in lock-step with God. In the same way, we cannot achieve “holiness” in our lives. Holiness is a pursuit, just like righteousness. We can have moments when we act holy, but we won’t be holy at every moment of our lives, because sin and holiness cannot coexist at the same time.
To be “holy” means to be “set apart”. Even though we cannot achieve holiness, we most certainly can pursue it. We can work to set ourselves apart from evil things by choosing good things. We can work to set ourselves apart from holding grudges by choosing to forgive. We can work to set ourselves apart from a sole focus on earthly pursuits by choosing to develop a relationship with God. We can work to set ourselves apart from only building up ourselves by choosing to serve others.
The loudest “noise” in the world juxtaposes our pursuit of holiness. We are encouraged to choose what works for us, even if our neighbor disagrees. We are encouraged to hold grudges rather than to forgive. We are ridiculed in many corners if we follow God. And it seems that the popular trend is to make sure we are okay before we think of the others.
If we want to be saints, if we are serious about the pursuit of holiness, then we should be shouting for joy, as the Psalm suggests, in our pursuit of holiness. And even though most people reading this message are not priests, we can still choose to clothe ourselves with righteousness. Hopefully we’ve all had the experience of wrapping ourselves in a warm blanket on a cold day. We all know what it feels like to be enveloped with warmth amidst the cold of winter. In our little cocoon, we feel safe and warm, even as our house and certainly outside the house are cold. In that moment, we feel unaffected by the cold around us. There is cause for joy. When we wrap ourselves in the righteousness of God, it’s like the same warm blanket that envelopes our souls in a world that is “cold” in so many pockets. In that moment, we will feel the warmth of God, the confidence in our faith, and genuine joy. If we can clothe ourselves with righteousness, there will be cause to shout for joy, no matter who we are, and I dare, say, no matter in what circumstance we find ourselves.
Remember, O Lord, in David’s favor, all the hardships he endured; how he swore to the Lord and vowed to the Mighty One of Jacob, “I will not enter My house or get into My bed; I will not give sleep to my eyes or slumber to my eyelids, until I find a place for the Lord, a dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob.” Lo, we heard of it in Ephrathah, we found it in the fields of Ja’ar. “Let us go to His dwelling place; let us worship at His footstool!” Arise, O Lord, and go to Thy resting place, Thou and the ark of Thy might. Let Thy priests be clothed with righteousness and let Thy saints shout for joy. For Thy servant David’s sake do not turn away the face of Thy anointed one. The Lord swore to David a sure oath from which He will not turn back; “One of the sons of your body I will set on your throne. If your sons keep My covenant and My testimonies which I shall teach them, their sons also forever shall sit upon you throne.” For the Lord has chosen Zion; he has desired it for His habitation; “This is My resting place forever; here I will dwell for I have desired it. I will abundantly bless her provisions; I will satisfy her poor with bread. Her priests I will clothe with salvation, and her saints will shout for joy. There I will make a horn to sprout for David; I have prepared a lamp for My anointed. His enemies I will clothe with shame, but upon himself his crown will shed its luster” Psalm 132
Clothe yourself in righteousness today, and in your spirit, you will find cause for joy. Even if the rest of the world, and even your own world lacks joy, the joy of God can still lighten your spirit!