Unity is great.
That sense of community where our relationships just seem to click, where we have a joyful sense of belonging, where our purposes align, where we seem to have the same mind without being forced into it — it’s the most truly peaceful experience we can have as relationally-oriented human beings. We love it when we stumble into it.
Unfortunately, unity is strangely elusive despite all of our desiring for it. We strive for it but rarely achieve it. Though it may drop into our laps like a gift on occasion, more often it’s only the result of devoted intention and hard work. Our almost universal desire for it doesn’t make it easy.
But working for it with effort and intention does pay off. We can’t force it, but we can make deliberate efforts to move toward it. And when we do, Psalm 133 (the psalm focused on unity) tells us, we get two additional and surprising results.
Of the psalm’s three verses, it’s usually only the first verse that gets memorized or commented on:
Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!
It’s a nice sentiment, but it has no meat to it. Sure, it’s good and pleasant when brothers and sisters get along — anyone could have told you that. It’s great material for pretty wallhangings. The real substance of the psalm, however, comes in the generally ignored next two verses. But we usually stop with the nice sentiment, never really intending to do the work necessary to bring about this cozy-sounding unity.
The second verse of Psalm 133 goes like this:
It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down on the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down on the collar of his robes!
Hmm. OK. So, what does this have to do with unity? How does this make our work toward it more intentional?
Unity here is compared with anointing oil and particularly the oil that sets apart priests for God’s work in the world.
Forging unity is priestly work. Forming union from disunion is holy work. In fact, it is the main thing God is doing in the world, the main thing he has invited us to join him in doing ourselves.
As I have written elsewhere, if a church isn’t a community, it’s nothing. The Scriptures offer the brokenness of disunity as the consequence of the Fall and the restoration of unity in the whole range of relationships covered in Genesis 3-12 as God’s main mission in the world (look here for a deeper biblical exploration of this). And the Scriptures also offer marriage as our primary image, expressing both the unity God desires for us and the disunity our sin brings when we act against God’s plans for us (see Oneness: God’s vision for marriage and for the whole world).
Unity is our mission. It’s our goal. It’s our calling. It is what we are ordained to, what our priestly work in the world is supposed to achieve.
When we get on with the work of establishing unity, we are like Aaron being anointed. The oil of God’s presence is poured out on us and soaks into us. We are fully on task with God, doing what he’s doing, doing what he most wants us to do. We are in the zone. We are wholly human.
We are priests less in leading worship than in forging unity. So, when we do this work, the first surprise we find is the holiness of what we’re doing. We are surprised to discover our priesthood.
The third and final verse of Psalm 133 is similarly cryptic and similarly surprising in what it brings. This time, instead of unity being like anointing oil, it’s like morning dew on the mountains.
It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the Lord has commanded the blessing,
Unity is like wet ground? Soggy soil?
Water is life. Without it, the land dries out and nothing grows. Because of it, rivers and rains have always been essential to human thriving. We have built cities next to rivers and we have prayed for rain. But there’s something unique and mysterious about dew.
Dew seems to come from nowhere. It is sheer gift. We go to sleep at night in a dry land and awake to the gift of a watered world. The coolness of the night constricting the air and squeezing out droplets of life-giving water.
The peaks of Hermon are on the farthest northern edge of Israel, where what we now call the Golan Heights are. The highest elevation in the land, there the air is coldest and dew the thickest. It’s this thickest and best of dews that the psalmist says comes to rest on Mount Zion, the holy mountain on which Jerusalem and the temple were built. Herman is the highest and wettest of the land and Zion is the center of all life in the land, from worship to politics to commerce to simple national identity.
Unity brings fresh life to the land. Quietly and mysteriously, it restores the soul of the land. Without drawing attention to itself, it secretly brings wholeness and health where all the rest of our striving just makes us sweaty.
We try all kinds of solutions to what ails our land. Economic solutions. Political solutions. Environmental solutions. Education solutions. Health and fitness solutions. Arts and entertainment solutions. All of these efforts have their place and importance. We need wholeness in each of these areas. But the psalmist tells us that true renewal in the land is only achieved through unity.
The surprise is that when we piece together a unity, the economy improves, political situations settle down, the environment is preserved, education thrives, health improves, and beauty abounds.
Unity is not just the best personal policy, it’s the most vital public policy there is. The land is thirsty for it.
When we are intentionally working for unity, we are at our most human, our most holy. When we restore the broken-apart, we renew the land, we bring shalom. These are the two surprising and essential results of being peace-makers and unity-formers, even in the smallest of ways.