That gathering was a glorious pre-COVID-19 event, the kind I look back on now and wonder if we’ll ever do again. I sat at small tables with artists, songwriters, and theologians from all over the world. We had rich conversation and ate delicious food. The group was diverse—culturally, theologically, and generationally—but there was a beautiful spirit throughout, as if everyone was eager to listen and learn from one another. I think many of us went home feeling like we’d tasted a bit of heaven.
The song Sandra and I wrote, based on Psalm 133, no doubt gathered its energy from the joyful experience of that weekend. “See how good it is gathering with friends, welcoming the stranger in. See how good it is!”
But Psalm 133 is one that, if you just picked up a Bible and started singing it, would very quickly mire you in confusing imagery. There’s oil running down the beard and making a mess all over the clothes of some guy named Aaron. Yikes! Not the kind of lyrics that immediately bring tears to your eyes if you’re an American reader like me. Yet as Sandra and I and several others at that Porter’s Gate gathering discussed this psalm, it unfolded like a flower, revealing a glorious picture of the kingdom of God.
Turns out what we’re viewing here is an ordination service. Aaron is being anointed as priest—one who is uniquely called to represent God’s love to the world. But wait! This poem isn’t about Aaron’s ordination. It’s about our ordination as priests of God to the hungry, lonely world around us.
And what is it that precipitates our ordination into this glorious priesthood? “When God’s people live together in unity.” When believers live in unity—valuing being together more than agreeing on everything—God says we are transfigured into glorious priests, images of God’s love, and through us his blessing of everlasting life is extended to all the world, like dew falling on a mountain and causing it to spring up green again.
I remember a time I was a stranger and became the recipient of this kind of priestly, loving embrace of unity. After graduating college, I spent a year on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. One Sunday I wandered into St. Stephens AME Church. I was clearly out of place—a 22-year-old white kid from Alabama in a mostly gray-haired African American congregation. But I was welcomed with warm hugs and huge smiles, like a long-lost son coming home. The welcome was so moving that I became a member of that church for the short year I lived nearby. God worked powerful things in my life, ultimately using that experience to call me into my vocation as a musician.
Experiences like that are what bring Psalm 133 to life. “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” (v. 1). It is truly so, so good.
When you experience genuine love across differences of culture, theology, and politics, it changes your life. Such love presents the watching world a portrait of God’s generous kindness. Is it not the character of God to welcome into his family not only those who are different from him but also those who have made themselves his enemies? Does anything reflect God’s love more beautifully than when we overlook differences and extend our arms in embrace?
When Sandra and I began recording this song in April 2021, there was a brief moment where it seemed the world was coming out of its long COVID-19 winter. I hoped this song might be an unambiguous anthem for us as we regathered to “normal” life. But as we send this song out into an anxious world of continuing pandemic, societal unrest, and deepening divisions, it has taken on new meaning for me. It’s a challenge, a hope, and a vision. Am I courageous enough to love even those I disagree with, no matter what the future holds?
“When God’s children live as one, by the Spirit we become the open arms of God to a world in need of love.” May it be so.
Wendell Kimbrough is a singer/songwriter, worship leader, and Artist-in-Residence at Church of the Apostles in Fairhope, Alabama.