Here we are in 2015! The beginning of the calendar year and, in the already-established church year, the end of Christmas and nearly Epiphany.
The lectionary leads us to Psalm 147 on the second Sunday after Christmas, and Psalm 72 for Epiphany (6 January). We concentrate on the latter this week, though it must be said that Tomas Luis de Victoria’s setting of Psalm 147, Lauda Jerusalem: Salmo di Vísperas No. 6, is truly enticing.
Our good friend of many years Dr Arto will lead our service as we welcome members of Yarralumla and Curtin Uniting Churches to our annual holiday season combined services.
Arto asked me recently: ‘How many people actually know what Epiphany means? ‘ Good question. Apart from the general meaning of a sudden revelation or flash of understanding, here’s the Collins Dictionary definition:
More widely observed in the Orthodox and Catholic traditions, Epiphany also marks the end of the twelve days of Christmas. The feast celebrates the demonstration to the Gentiles of the coming of God in the form of human flesh. Arto will reveal more from his great theological, linguistic and world experience.
By any measure, this is a powerful psalm (text of all readings here >). The last psalm in Book II of the psalter’s five books, it is a strong call for justice in the ruler and a peaceable kingdom. These, surely, are still much-needed commodities today!
The psalm’s reference to foreign kings (mentioned in vv 10-11, but by association the Magi in the definition above) is a reason for associating this psalm with the Epiphany.
The music available to us is rich and varied. We sang two different refrains during 2013. The last occasion in December 2013 coincided with the passing of the great Nelson Mandela. The opening verse of the psalm therefore rang in our hearts with a special poignancy:
Give the leader your justice O God. (v. 1)
This is a powerful aspiration and one that regrettably is never superfluous in this power-hungry world. Several great composers of years gone by were struck by that pivotal reference to foreign ‘Kings of Tarshish, the islands and Sheba’. Who better to cite but William Byrd (1540-1623) in the example shown below?
We have from time to time sung lovely pieces from this Renaissance era. It all seems quite ancient for refined composition in four voices — until we hear that new research has shown that polyphonic singing was certainly practised by 900 CE and probably much earlier.
However, broadening the focus to the full text and with equal delight we turn to the simple, reflective and harmonious strains of Taizé. Several Taizé songs in Together in song suggest themselves including No 706, Bless the Lord my soul. This Sunday we shall use 747 as the response:
The Lord is my light, my light and salvation: in God I trust
The song may be sung as a round or in parts. Singers are invited to blend the various parts and harmonies as they wish.