Psalm 76 makes a strong plea for a peaceable world where divine power and justice are the forces to be revered. In the city of God:
… God broke the flashing arrows, the shield, the sword and the weapons of war … none of the warriors can lift a hand. (v.3, 5)
Just as we saw in Psalm 44.6:
I do not rely on my bow, and my sword does not give me the victory; surely you gave us victory (vs. 6, 7)
Psalm 77 goes on to emphasise how powerful divine love and influence are — the psalmist cites not only elemental forces evident in creation, but also the miracles and guidance on display during the escape from Egypt.
When the psalms seem violent and vindictive, they reflect the outpourings of a soul in anguish and in times of conflict, a lament like the blues. However if the pen is mightier than the sword, so is love. The insistent and unmistakable message of the psalter is of a creator who loves justice, equity and peace.
Coincidentally, the ‘sword’ was the nickname for the F-86 Sabre, the aircraft your Webmaster flew in a first Air Force posting after graduation from university and pilots’ course. Also quite coincidentally, 76 and 77 are the numbers of a couple of the Air Force squadrons which flew the Sabre and then Mirage III aircraft (pictured below with an F-4 Phantom high over the Arafura Sea).
All the aircraft I flew are now in museums, of course. Without undervaluing this military career, or denying the importance of a strong national security policy in this uncertain world, we can still wish that all such swords should be in museums or beaten into ploughshares. Untrained, uncontrolled and undisciplined, humans with guns are dangerous, as we see in the news all too frequently.
The psalms indicate that in a regime where divine love dominates, weapons are be discarded as useless. They will win no lasting peaceful victory. The psalm points out that the shield is broken too; so the same rule applies to attacker and defender alike; giving people more guns in defence is no answer. Unfortunately, until society values justice, equity and love as key values, we must keep locking our doors and controlling guns.
These two psalms appear little in the Lectionary; 76 is a ‘skip’ and 77 makes it once into Year C. Classical settings are rare, so the value of our modern psalters and collections is underlined.
For Psalm 76 a peace prayer, also appropriate with Psalms 50 and 120, would be relevant. The illustration shows one in the Roman tradition from Corpus Christi Watershed,(1) who suggest that the Gregorian chant will serve to unify people in this cause.
For Psalm 77, Everett in The Emergent Psalter offers a simple refrain:
I call to mind your deeds, remembering your wonders of old. (2)
Fishing into the Dropbox library, I find (I had quite forgotten — it was three years ago) that I have written a paraphrase to facilitate singing the text to the same tune as the refrain (Everett assumes you will read the words to a background vamp, but this seems to miss the idea that the psalms are fundamentally songs.) The singer can use this as a guide but improvise the tune as inspired by the words of each verse. This is easier if you accompany yourself, of course.
Otherwise, here’s a good chance to write your own.
Notes: 1. See more here: http://www.ccwatershed.org/blog/2013/sep/7/chant-peace/