By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How shall we sing the LORD'S song in a strange land? (Psalms 137:1-4).
These are unprecedented times. Coronavirus continues to impact our communities as churches, businesses, schools, and families try to adjust to life in a socially distanced society. Although some churches are returning to face-to-face worship, the long-term effects of the pandemic remain uncertain. Consequently, the church is tasked with finding a new path forward.
The ancient Israelites faced a similarly perplexing situation. After King Nebuchadnezzar's army besieged Jerusalem, many of the Jews were taken captive and transported to Babylon. The exiles experienced an overwhelming sense of loss and a great longing to return to their homeland. To make matters worse, their captors taunted them, telling them to sing the songs of Zion. Their request only stirred memories of Jerusalem and their joyful pilgrimages to worship in the temple. Discouraged and disheartened, they hung their harps on the willows and wept, asking themselves, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land (v. 2-4)?
With the fall of Jerusalem, Jewish existence changed dramatically. Their “new normal” included a life of bondage much like they had endured before their miraculous deliverance from Egypt. Similarly, today when many church doors remain closed and congregations are watching sermons on social media or listening to them over loudspeakers, many Christians are feeling a sense of estrangement. When we recall the days when our churches were filled with worshippers, we long to experience that kind of togetherness again.
The ancient Jews found a remedy for their predicament by focusing their thoughts on Jerusalem (v. 5). At first, memories of Jerusalem caused them to weep. But gradually their despair changed to hope that God would deliver them as he had in the past. Memory has the remarkable power to change our perspective. As they remembered the songs of Zion, the exiles shifted their focus from their captivity to their promised deliverance.
Throughout Scripture, we are encouraged to remember the ways that God has worked in the past (cf. Deut. 8:2; Psalm 77:11; 143:5) and to sing joyful songs to the Lord (Psalm 95:1. 96:1; 98:1-3). Memory is the thread that connects our experience to what God has promised. As the Jews remembered God, their faith was strengthened and their hope was renewed. Their memories of Jerusalem caused them to praise the God who had delivered them in the past and had promised deliverance in the future (Jer. 29:11).
Sometimes life can overwhelm us and threaten to silence our song. It may even seem like praise is out of place when we are suffering. However, as we remember how God has demonstrated his faithfulness in the past, we can endure the most difficult situations with hope. When we praise God in adversity, it affirms our trust in him. Our songs are an expression of our faith. Never allow your circumstances to silence your praise. Don't hang your harp on the willows. Instead, focus your thoughts on God's word and his promises and let your memory inspire you to sing songs of praise.