“Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord. This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it.” Psalm 118:19-20
Gates serve an interesting function. Often we think of them as providing entrance to a particular area. We think of gates as the entrance to a field, a house, or a community. If you’ve ever traveled to places like Disney World, or Six Flags, you’ll notice there is a fence typically around the property, but then there is a gate at the entrance to the park which allows access in and out of the complex. Most vacation complexes have a gate at the entrance to the vacation rental; you pull up, show your pass, and the gate opens allowing access to the facility. It’s a wonderful feature which often helps one feel safe and secure.
While we often think about gates as being designed to provide entrance, in reality, they are part of a system that in many ways is designed to deny access. For instance, the gate at Disney World is not designed to allow free access. Disney is trying to control access to only those willing to pay the proper entrance fee. The gate is there to keep out those not willing to pay the price. Or consider a gated community. The gate at the entrance of a gated community is specifically designed to keep out those who do not belong. It’s denying access to only those who live in the community or their expected guests. Gates block access. Which means that gates are not just physical, but psychological and symbolic as well. How many times have we heard that the door, or the gate, has been shut on a particular opportunity, career, or even relationship? We’ve tried and tried to get a new job, yet time and again we are told no. We’ve hoped and longed for a relationship with a special someone, yet time and again we come up empty. We’ve made a mistake in our past, a DUI, a criminal history, or even a failed marriage or relationship, and that mistake, even though it was twenty years ago continues to haunt our present, and continues to force others to say no. We continue to find that for one reason or another, the gate is shut.
While Gates have often been designed to limit access and bar individuals from getting inside, God has always been about the business of opening the gates and allowing the righteous to come in. The story of God in the Bible is the story not of baring access, but of granting access. After the first sin in the Garden, God is not content to leave humanity alone to suffer the consequences of abandonment, but instead begins the process of redemption and restoration that continues throughout the story of scripture. When the people of Israel find themselves in bondage in Egypt, and the power structures of Pharaoh have condemned them to a life filled with making bricks and building cities in service to Egypt, while their Hebrew babies are being cast into the Nile River, God does not abandon them. God opens the gates. God’s hand moves in powerful ways over the land of Egypt to bring about the redemption of Israel. When Israel finds itself in exile with the people stripped from their homeland and forced to walk mile upon mile to some foreign land as punishment for their sins. Even then, god does not abandon them. God does not forget the promises. Instead, God raises up servants to bring the people back to the Promised Land. Or even in the first century, when Israel gathers to celebrate the Passover under the watchful eye of the Romans, God does not forget the people. The gate seems shut, but Jesus comes to open the gates wide. Not through force and power, but through love and sacrifice. The Messiah King comes riding on a donkey and the people shout, Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Jesus opens wide the gates to let the righteous enter.
Thus we can join our voices to the cries of the Psalmist. Open to us the gates so that we can enter the presence of God. Open to us the gates because the voices of our past keep telling us we don’t have access. Open to us the gates because our ethnicity or our gender is keeping us out. Open to us the gates because our economic situation is telling us we can’t get in. Open to us the gates because our addictions, our addiction to alcohol, to sex, or even to money are keeping them closed. Open to us the gates because our failed marriage, our failed career, or even our failed parenting is telling us we don’t belong.
And in our pain and desperation we hear the voice of the Lord say; this is the Gate of the Lord, the righteous shall enter through it.
In God, we find hope, because the gate has been opened forevermore.