Psalm 80, 14 August 2016

80 signPsalm 80 (selected text here>) makes a relatively frequent appearance in the Revised Common Lectionary. It is listed in all three years, sometimes twice, and has been thrice discussed in this blog already — see entries in the Index Book 3 page. (The alternative reading is Psalm 82, which I described in a recent blog as ‘fundamental teaching on justice’.)

This song, a plea for restoration, has an inbuilt antiphon in the repetitive verses 3, 7 and 19, paraphrased in the refrain in Psalms for all Seasons by David Lee as:Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 19.08.

Restore us again, O Lord God of hosts, and show us the light of your face and your grace, and we shall be saved.

The verses

It’s easy to find a simple congregational response then just read the words. That is the expectation in some sources like The Emergent Psalter, whose fine modernistic antiphons generally end with the instruction ‘Vamp in (a chosen chord is mentioned)’ for the reading of verses. Easier, it’s true. But to me it seems to miss the whole tradition of poems that were meant to be sung to enhance and elevate their meaning, feelings or inspirational qualities. Often, this means using a suggested tone, provided in many psalters such as Psalms for All Seasons, or improvising.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The verse selection of this reading (1-2, 8-19) differs from those selected for readings during Advent. This does not invalidate the previous blogs’ commentary — but the song-sheet in our library would need to be rewritten.

These later verses still seek the restoration of Israel after subjection by the Assyrians. However, this section uses imagery not of a shepherd as in the earlier part of the psalm, but of a vine ‘out of Egypt’, flourishing until the walls of the vineyard are broken down. Strangers pick the grapes, wild animals ravage the vine and it is burned like rubbish. The song-writer asks for restoration not just for old glories and prosperity, but so that ‘we may never turn back from you’. (v. 18)

BP vines closeupNow we can see why three years ago our beloved Rev. Rachel suggested the Sinead song ‘If you had a vineyard’. It was sung beautifully then by Jo and Bruce. The text is drawn from Isaiah but it’s the same message, a plea for a return to integrity, safety, and wholeness that is allegorically just as valid today as when the song was written. We are indeed fortunate to hear these singers again as they and a few friends revisit the vineyard.

For other musical offerings for Psalm 80, see those previous blogs.

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