“By the rivers of Babylon—there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung up our harps. For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’ How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither!” (Ps 136/137: 1-5)
This Psalm, which expresses the sadness of the Jewish people in exile after the Babylonian conquest of Jesrusalem in 607 BC, is sung at Byzantine matins on the three Sundays preceding Lent. It prepares us for the voluntary “exile” of Lent, during which we focus in a special way on the sadness and yearning of humanity after Adam’s “exile” from paradise, and before the coming of The Awaited One, Jesus Christ. On the weekdays of Lent, for example, we “abstain” from celebrating the joyous service of Divine Liturgy, and thus “hang up our harps” for most of the week.
Today let me not hesitate to recognize my human sadness, my yearning to “come home” to my Father’s land of perfect harmony, peace, and unity. Let me not slip into self-contentment and imagined self-sufficiency, which is the kiss of death to spiritual growth and thirst. Today let me “remember” the heavenly Jerusalem, from which I distance myself, again and again, amidst my responsibilities and relationships. I need not cover this up in “songs” and “mirth,” as I prepare for Lent, but rather take some time to “sit down,” to “weep,” and to “remember Zion.”