On my last visit to Europe I spent an unforgettable evening with a dozen or so relatives in Sexbierum, the Netherlands—a small village hard by Harlingen, the birthplace of my father.
The building we were in, complete with thatched roof, was erected in the year 1000-something. There, amid delightful surroundings, we dined from 6 to 11 p.m. A cousin pointed out a text hanging on the wall. It had escaped my attention. It said in native tongue, “Where love dwells, there the Lord commands his blessing. Psalm 133.” It took that setting in a public restaurant, of all places, for me to see that psalm with new eyes.
I had never really liked it. Mainly because it compares the fellowship of believers to oil flowing down Aaron’s salt-and-pepper beard. Not a pleasing sight. Yuck! The meaning had therefore escaped me until one day I studied that psalm in depth. That oil was holy and sweet smelling, telling us that a blest accord among God’s people is like a blend of fragrance in divine nostrils.
Similarly, David observes that love among the saints is like dew falling on Mount Hermon—a poetic reference to what is refreshing. So, ergo, God’s people, living in unity, are like a refreshing fragrance to our Lord. David’s masterful illustrations of Christian unity help me to sing more heartily, “Such love is like anointing oil that consecrates for holy toil . . . such love in peace and joy distills, as o’er the slopes of Hermon’s hills refreshing dew descends” (Psalter Hymnal, 514).
I write this brief exegesis of Psalm 133 because this is 2007, the 150th anniversary of the Christian Reformed Church in North America. Our sesquicentennial, a word hard to spell and hard to pronounce. I ask myself: has our 150 years of existence been a fragrance and a refreshment to God as a result of our having lived together in love and unity?
A brief overview of our history reveals both unity and disunity. Surely we would not have survived without the unity. Our founding fathers and mothers together put their shoulders to the wheel as they sacrificially built our churches and schools with their hard-earned nickels and dimes. The winters were cold, the summers hot. The infant mortality rate was high, yet a mighty fortress was their God, as the benches in their churches were never bare.
They were the ones who wrote the inspiring chapters of our early history; chapters we do well to read lest we forget. They laid the foundations of our present churches, day schools, colleges, and mission outreach. How good and pleasant was their unity in the sight of God. Fragrant and refreshing.
But in our century and a half there has also been disunity. It was said in days of yore that if you had two Hollanders, you had a church. If three, you had a split. There were those who fought over using English language in our worship services. There were those who left because of their views on eschatology—the future. The common grace doctrine caused a parting of the ways among us, with feelings running so deep separations occurred even within families. Members would not speak with one another. The women-in-office matter among our ranks brought rancor and ecclesiastical distance. Our sesquicentennial is cause for rejoicing. It is also an occasion for confession.
What of our future? When someone in our family has a birthday, he or she gets to blow out the candles on the cake while making a secret wish. I would like to blow out 150 candles and make a public wish—a wish that in the years ahead the Christian Reformed Church in North America may see a growing unity in a time of increased diversity.