How very good and pleasant it is

    when kindred live together in unity! 

It is like the precious oil on the head,

    running down upon the beard,

on the beard of Aaron,

    running down over the collar of his robes.

It is like the dew of Hermon,

    which falls on the mountains of Zion.

For there the Lord ordained his blessing,

    life forevermore.

-Psalm 133


Read that psalm a couple more times, if you don’t mind. Imagine the sight of someone having oil poured on their head, enough to run down to their chin and drip down across the collar of their shirt. Not a sight you come across every day, huh?

In the times of the Bible, especially the Old Testament, oil (olive oil, mostly) was a valuable commodity, used for trading and a sign of wealth in large amounts. Part of the reason it worked so well for trading was its long shelf life and versatility. Oil was a necessity for cooking. And, most relevant to the psalm, it was also used in worship to anoint, or identify those whom God had chosen for a particular role, or simply to convey that person’s sense of joy and blessedness.

No wonder the psalmist chose the image of oil being poured over someone’s head to illustrate the goodness of kindred living together in unity. And not just anyone, but Aaron, the archetype and symbol of the whole priesthood, the head of the worshiping community. It is good when we find ourselves living in community well, when we care for one another, listen to one another, meet each other’s needs, and share common goals and dreams. We might not experience that all the time, but perhaps the fleeting nature of beloved community is what helps us see all the more how precious and worth working for  it is.

Unity is so good. It’s like oil poured out in joy. Pouring valuable oil on a person’s head so that it runs over their face, down their chin, and onto their clothes, simply to celebrate something wonderful. Now, that is abundance.

It is also a mess. Getting oil stains out of clothes is the most frustrating part of laundry, in my opinion. Even with the full array of cleaning products available to me in 2023, I still can’t always get oil out of a shirt that’s been spilled on while cooking. In the time of this psalm, 3000 years ago, I doubt they could get the stains out at all.

But, you know, the goodness of unity with our beloved ones, family or friends, neighbors near or far— that also leaves a mark, doesn’t it? Not an oil stain on your shirt, but an inner mark, a change that shapes you and makes you long for another experience of unity. And each new time you are blessed by that unity, it marks you a bit more, orienting you even more toward making the beloved community neither a dream nor a fleeting experience but an everyday reality.

I think those oil stains might have been a really good thing on Aaron’s robe, actually. He was a leader in their community, the person they would go to to help resolve disagreements or arbitrate right and wrong. Even long after his death, his descendants served as priests and rulers. Imagine if every time we gathered as a congregation, there were visible reminders of unity.

“There’s the stain from the time we all worked together to help clean so-and-so’s flooded basement.”

“That’s the mark from the day we resolved our disagreement about what to do next.”

"Remember the stain from the oil we poured to mark paying off the mortgage?”

It is good to celebrate unity. And it is necessary to have reminders of that unity especially when we don’t feel it, so that we remember that we are able, by the grace of God and power of the Holy Spirit, to speak and act in ways that build up community. And when that unity happens? It’s so good. It’s like oil that gets everywhere and leaves marks that cannot be removed.