Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young – a place near Your altar, O Lord Almighty, my King and my God (Psalm 84:3).
It was likely one of the holy days when the priests streamed into the Temple. Amid the psalms and the incense and the prayers and the holy ceremony there was a pause. Not much of one but long enough to hear the song of the bird that had made her nest near the altar. While nine out of ten priests found it irritating and maybe bordering on blasphemous one priest found joy in the little bird’s song. He now listened for it over all the other sounds of worship. He knew he must leave when the business of the day was finished but that the bird would remain. When the Temple had fallen silent from all of today’s ceremony her song would continue bringing honor to the Lord and Maker of all.
The bird knew nothing of her sacred resting place except for this: it was a refuge to lay her eggs and hatch her young. It was as natural for her to build her nest there as it was to hunt for insects or fly or fill her breast with the unplanned psalm of praise that is in the little bird’s song. She was not interrupting their worship but she was joining in it. She was not defiling the Temple but simply showing what it was meant to be all along – a place near to the heart of God.
The psalmist envied the bird. In his worship he had sought this place of intimacy with God, the place where all things were seen in the proper light and in the right perspective instead of in the distorted shadows of the everyday. The ceremony taught him, the sacrifices reminded him that God desired not so much to see the death of the innocent animals as much as desiring to draw men close and closer still, as if beckoning them back to the purity of Eden to meet with Him in the cool of the day. Sin was the clutter, the barrier. The sacrifices moved that away and the priest found that in that place God felt ever so near. To remain there as safely kept and as closely held as the bird’s nest tucked away in the window beyond the reach of the ones who would push it aside. The psalmist wanted to nestle near the altar like the little bird and wishing that he too could open his mouth and pour forth a song of pure praise that only God could hear.
Perhaps it later occurred to the priest that the bird could sing her song wherever she might be. Whether it was in that nook in the Temple or out in the forest far from human ears or again in the midst of a wild flock of other birds, singing the song would be just as pleasing to God in those places as well. The wide open spaces of the Judean countryside or on some branch jutting out from a cliff she was in the presence of God as much as in the gilded Temple that awed the worshiper. The sparrow has found a home, he said. And we have as well. Later in this song the psalmist says, Blessed are those whose strength is in You, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage (vs. 5).
So the place near the altar is not a fixed one but a heart fixed on Him. It is being centered in Christ, the sun of our orbit, the rock solid foundation of all that we build. And like the sparrow when there are the pauses between our work and our worship, the song will be heard, pure, sweet and simple. The bird sang her song because she could sing no other. But we who have seen the riches of His grace and have been touched with eternity sing with hearts that overflow so that the song of praise is the only offering good enough.
That dear old saint Francis of Assisi caught this when he wrote,
All creatures of our God and King
Lift up your voice and with us sing,
Thou burning sun with golden beam,
Thou silver moon with softer gleam!
O praise Him! O praise Him!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Let all things their Creator bless,
And worship Him in humbleness,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son,
And praise the Spirit, Three in One!