“Behold how pleasant and how good it is when brethren dwell together in unity…” (Psalm 133:1)
Oh the joy of getting on. It’s pleasant. It’s good.
The Hebrew words for pleasant and good are significant. The word for pleasant suggests a pleasing aroma, like bacon frying or fresh bread out of the oven, or your morning coffee percolating. It’s pleasant, unmistakably pleasant. And everybody recognises the fact. It’s obvious how nice it is.
And the word “good” carries the connotation of something wholesome and straight, moral and guileless. He saw that it was good.
These are the attributes of life lived in peace.
It’s like… Oh, how can I describe it? The writer seems to lean back in his chair and stretch for a suitable metaphor. And then he finds it. Oil.
It’s like the anointing oil poured on to Aaron’s head, curling on to the beard, dripping on to the shoulders and chest…
When I was a very young believer, I had a good friend called Jonathan and together we were visiting one of the elders of the church, a wonderfully patriarchal man called Jack. Jack’s back was playing him up and he instructed us to pray for him, to lay hands on him and anoint him with oil. So, with a bottle of olive oil from the kitchen, we began to pray. Now, I had neither heard about this nor seen it done, but somehow I was the one holding the bottle whilst Jonathan prayed.
One thing I did know, however, was this Psalm. How pleasant, how good…like the anointing oil on Aaron’s head and beard…
So taking my cue from Psalm 133, I unscrewed the bottle top, leaned towards the very top of Jack’s head and poured the whole bottle out. It gushed into his ears, rushed down both sides of his face, hesitated over the beard until it formed a spike of hair at the bottom of his chin from whence it drip-dripped on to the parquet floor, forming a widening, golden circle.
And Jack never said a word about it. He just continued to sit there, smiling, with his hands palm-open, receiving this surprising blessing in serene dignity.
Later, when I saw other people dabbing tiny blobs of oil on sick people’s foreheads, the recollection of praying for Jack made me (and makes me) hot with embarrassment. But the memory is not all negative. Even though I was naïve and ignorant, I was at least sincere and obedient to what I understood Scripture to say. It was only the human tradition with which I was unfamiliar.
And there was something exuberant, generous and delightful about the flow of that oil. It was pleasing.
But –here’s the thing- Jack gave me a tremendous gift with his silence, his smile and his encouragement. He received my offering with pleasure and somehow made it a godly thing.
That’s the unshakeable memory that I always associate with this verse. The blessing of unity is the experience of relational love.
When we come as people from different churches to work together for the kingdom, it is not at all easy or straightforward. There are often old suspicions or hurts which have to be negotiated. We have to handle those situations gently, with humility and vulnerability.
And we may well get things wrong, and outrage sensibilities all over again. We may offend, with our doctrines and practices, through ignorance or naivety, but the effort is worth it.
If we serve each other with love, we express the generosity of God and give and receive healing. It is pleasant and good. It makes you smile in pleasure. It’s worth the attempt.
And there…right there in the pouring out of lives, “God commands the blessing.”