The first Australians have been conscious of and connected to the land in much stronger and deeper ways than more recent arrivals can comprehend. Their livelihood was far more intimately bound up with their natural environment. Features in their traditional territorial landscapes have longstanding narrative and spiritual importance.
Somehow, this atmosphere permeates Psalm 85, declaring that “truth springs up from the earth”. (11) Justice is associated with the very heart of the creation. For further comment on this theme see a previous post in December 2014.
The first verses speak of restoration and forgiveness; but these blessings are anchored in this context of the land:
… that God’s glory may dwell in our land. Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other. Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky. (10, 11)
Justice, which throughout the Psalter is seen as a cornerstone of the original creation plan, again receives emphasis in imagery of the journey of life:
‘Justice goes before God, and peace is a road for God’s feet.’ (13)
Palestrina, Lassus and others employed such mellifluous verses for five-part settings for the Offertory during Advent or other liturgical uses. Here is an example from verses 2-3 by Palestrina.
Readers familiar with the BCP texts will recognise this from verse 7, used by Lassus for Advent II:
Ostende nobis, Domine, misericordiam tuam, et salutare tuum da nobis. / Shew us thy mercy, O Lord: and grant us thy salvation.
In more modern sources:
- Everett in his notes in TEP draws attention to those important images of righteousness and peace quoted above; however he chooses verse 7, the prayer for mercy, as his refrain.
- No 45 in TiS would be a good choice; easy response, simple chords, interesting harmonies for SATB in the verses. However, it does not quite cover the lectionary readings and the inclusion of verses 1 and 2 is advisable to set the scene.
- PFAS 86B is the lovely Taizé chorus Dona nobis pacem, adorned with a lilting rendition of the verse phrases in a cantor’s descant over the refrain ostinato. This is very effective.
- Refrain and tone will be sung locally to a tune by the author that has become known as the South Woden communion chant with variations: