Psalms 118 and 31, Palm Sunday

Palms at Percy Island, Barrier Reef

Why two psalms? Because there are two commemorations going on here for Palm Sunday – the palms and the passion.

In early years, two separate liturgical celebrations were observed: the first commemorated the Passion of Jesus; later in the day, a procession of people carried palms to the Great Church in Jerusalem for Vespers. These two services became one.

[As an aside: I’ve been reading in Sapiens, a recent history by Yuval Noah Harari, that over many centuries cultural habits of homo sapiens tend to integrate and coalesce globally. Then divisions occur for a time before new coalitions emerge, informed by global fashions. With such a close focus on this one particular case, the aggregation of Palm Sunday themes can hardly be cited as evidence for or against Harari’s research. However, the trend is reflected in ongoing dialogues between communities and churches: the nation state is now standard in governance; they have gradually accepted capitalism, mercantile and financial systems in one form or another; Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox are trying to agree on a calendar – relevant as we approach Easter. While national responses my differ (do we queue for TP or guns?) humanity is at least united in a common largely fearful experience of pandemic.]

Back in Palm Sunday, stories of donkey and palm capture the imagination as an iconic characterisation of the day. Actually, the steadfast entry towards arrest, betrayal, ‘trial’ and death are the dominant themes of the week. Viewed from your socially distanced lounge at home of course, liturgical distinctions become academic. So pick a psalm that speaks to you and spend a few minutes therein:

118:1, 2 19-29 is a song of thanks and joy, the opportunity to acknowledge our smiles and sunshine amongst the clouds. You will find familiar lines like:

  • 19: Open the gates of righteousness
  • 22 The stone that the builders rejected
  • 24: This is the day, and
  • 26: Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God.

31:9-16. Reading this text, you would almost think that it is another of those penitential psalms mentioned recently. In these songs it seems David is singing the blues; he sighs that he is weary and afflicted, but then declares trust.


Musical settings for the first of these have been often discussed in these posts over half-a-dozen years: check them out in the Book V Index page.

As to 31, the response fromĀ Psalms for All Seasons 31C is rich in meaning, tune and harmony. Just as many intertwined ideas are at play in this psalm, so also in the niceĀ refrain from PFAS by AnnaMae Meyer Bush. In times which underline that our future is largely beyond our control, which is more often than we admit, theĀ response in PFAS is strong, picking up the powerful promiseĀ in verse 15:

Palms in the Kimberley
Palms, but certainly not Jerusalem; these are in the Kimberley, NW Australia.

My times are in your hands; (Rescue me … Let your face shine upon me.)

Thatā€™s only one of four rich snapshot statements of belief in this antiphon. The other three:

You strengthen me in strife
My hope is in your Word
Your love preserves my life

Great words, and the nicely harmonised response follows an easy, descending path of similar phrases.

“This is all very well.” I hear you cry from your deserted lounge, “but it’s words, words, words. What about some music?”

For what it’s worth here are the notes, admittedly in deplorably mechanical style, but you can at least follow together with those good lines quoted above :

Not very satisfactory, agreed. I dare not burden you with my ragged voice renditions. Other sources? The Sons of Korah skip this one, as does Steve Bell.

A better idea, having referred to the Penitentials, is to listen to a few minutes of Collegium Vocale Ghent as they sing all the settings by Orlando di Lasso.

No need to listen to all seven. Two hours, however lovely those a cappella voices might be, will have you nodding off. Just take a sample. Psalm 130, still in our minds from last week, starts at 1:53.

7 thoughts on “Psalms 118 and 31, Palm Sunday

  1. Love the lines & tune. Can remember you singing this one at SWUC. In times of great isolation, Cran internet is very spasmodic & all digital things are random. You might get this message by Sunday. Hope all is calm & well in Farrer. Trish

    Sent from my iPhone


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