Log In

As This Watchman Waits For Morning – The Rev. Shannon Preston – Church Building

Psalm 130

As this watchman waits for morning

Last week I visited my sister in Switzerland.  On Tuesday, we took a three-hour train trip to Lausanne—a city in the French speaking region situated on Lake Geneva.  She has lived in Switzerland for six years but before this week not yet been to Lausanne.

Lausanne, (change slide) in addition to being the 4th largest city in Switzerland and home of the International Olympic Committee and Court of Arbitration for Sport, is renowned for being home to a night watch which has been held there continually since 1405.  We took this trip specifically to hear the watchman of Lausanne.

On top of the highest hill in the city, which is quite high, looms the Lausanne Cathedral – consecrated in 1256.  It is the largest cathedral in Switzerland and became a Protestant cathedral after the Protestant reformation.  Now, each night between 10p and 2a after the bell chimes the hour a watchman emerges from the top of the cathedral tower and chants, melodically, in all four directions: “C’est le guet, il a sonné dix, il a sonné dix.”  Which means, “this is the night watch, the hour has struck ten, the hour has struck ten.”

Originally, this role was functional. He watched at night for fires.  Lausanne was primarily a city of wood buildings and after a fire in 1405 the Archbishop appointed a watchman to stay alert for fires during the night—a preventative step against another fire that could leave the city in ruin.  Most cities at that time and earlier had a watchman and many would watch for dangerous visitors or whatever the local threat to that towns safety might be.  When police took over this safety watch, most town discontinued the use of a watchman…but not Lausanne. [1]Today, the watchman doesn’t serve so much a functional role as a traditional one. He is a reminder of the past and a comfort for residents and visitors to know that, from his view, all is well.

“My soul waits for the Lord, more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning;”[2] our psalm sings today.

During the time the psalms were written, the watchman held a highly tense position—all night (and for some, day) they watched for suspicious movements, threats, and danger.  They always were on guard.  It’s likely Psalm 130 was written during the Babylonian captivity—not the most peaceful time in Israel’s history.  So, as we can imagine, morning to the watchman, was a great relief, an opportunity to breathe and relax.  They had very good reason to want morning’s arrival.  The original meaning of the psalm is how much we want God—even more than a watchman in a time with great potential for danger.  The watchmen were desperate to pass the time safely, as their lives could well be at stake.  Even more than this is our longing for God.

While the role of the watchman has changed, out need for God has not.  It is part of who we are as humans– we simply have tried to fill that longing up with other things.  But we can still learn from the psalmist description of the reference even if the watchman today looks somewhat different than that of long ago. Renato Häusler has been Lausanne’s official watchman for over 20 years and an article about Häusler in National Geographic describes his approach to the role. Häusler works a job during the day time and, while he sometimes gets tired at night, he deeply loves his night watch.  The article describes his office at the top of the tower as filled with books about philosophy, meditation, and theology.  The office has wi-fi but he doesn’t use it. Instead he reads, makes candles, or simply prays. [3]  This time that he waits for morning is now a space for him to contemplate, a time of solitude and peace.

The psalm today might sound something more like: My soul waits for the Lord, as this watchman for the morning, as this watchman for the morning.

A time to breathe, rest, retreat into God.

It’s August 12th now and here in Austin summer is still in full swing while school, for some, draws nearer.  Though summer is meant to be a break for many it can often be fuller than we expect…rushing by.  Perhaps some of you share this experience.  It’s a time when maybe, like me, you’ve written a little “to-do” list of all to accomplish in this free time and, surprisingly, or not, it still has much to accomplish.  These tasks are overlooked as busyness creeps in.  And as busyness creeps in, it’s possible it can also push aside the breath, the space, the time we must set apart for God.

Today it can be honored to fill all our time, to go fast, to delegate that which others can do. We live in a different time than that the watchmen of old.  And as the watchmen’s role has changed, it can seem we are in danger at times to see our need for God change, too.  However, the meaning of the Psalm 130 still holds true for us today.  We cannot delegate our relationship with God to anyone else.  It’s much harder to know God’s love and mercy if we don’t give our ear or attention to God.  It’s much harder to know God’s peace and forgiveness without giving time to watch for and listen to God.  We can pack our schedules, our summers full with many good things but the satisfaction, our deepest joy, I think you know, is not complete if we do not recognize God, that who is greater than any one of us, who is the source of all love, forgiveness and peace, as the giver of all good things in our lives.

Watching for God, being with God is not meant to be a chore, or another task but as Häusler approaches his watch—a simple joy.  It’s a recognition of our need for the God who promises and give to us infinite love, forgiveness and mercy.  A drawing back to the source of all the good gifts and hope of this life.

Some recommend writing into your calendar time for God.  Setting aside a fifteen-minute meeting space to commune with God.  Amazingly, this space can fill up with other things.  But maybe even just an alarm could help—at 10p for example, a reminder to make space for God.  For the watchman, when the bell chimes, he responds.  It is his role to watch over the city—and the role to watch for God belongs to each one of us.

Today, some describe the watchman’s role as an angel.  After hearing the watchman, I was comforted that night as I fell asleep knowing that someone was awake, keeping watch.

“I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him; in his word is my hope.  My soul waits for the Lord, as this watchman waits for the morning, as this watchman waits for the morning.”[4]

[1] Cervin, Michael. “The Watchman of Lausanne.” Craftsmanship Quarterly. March 21, 2018. https://craftsmanship.net/the-watchman-of-lausanne/

[2] Psalm 130, NRSV

[3] Evans, Andrew. “The Nightwatchman of Lausanne.” National Geographic. June 29, 2012. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/digital-nomad/2012/06/29/the-nightwatchman-of-lausanne/

[4] Psalm 130, NRSV