Psalm 105, a frequent visitor

Sing praises to God; tell of wondrous works.

Psalm 105:2

Can Psalm 105 really be called a frequent visitor when it appears in Year A alone in the three-year Lectionary cycle? That seems a long time between drinks.

Well, it makes up for its long absence by rocking up on four Sundays over the space of two months, this year from 26 July to 20 September in what is rather prosaically called ‘Ordinary Time’. Ordinary in this context comes from ordinal, as the weeks are numbered, rather than boring. Still, there’s a suspicion that it fits pretty well in both senses as we tick off the slow weeks of COVID distancing.

Exodus tales. Moses strikes the rock, by Arthur Boyd

To be fair, it’s a long poem at 45 verses, suitable to be tasted in small portions. However, the theme throughout is praise for God’s faithfulness to a people of faith over times of drama and hardship, times of persecution and trial, times of comfort and abundance.

It harks back to the rather mythical and culturally remote stories of Jacob, sold as a slave, then Israel’s arrival and hard times in Egypt before their eventual Exodus.

Exotic and a different cultural world, perhaps, but the allegory still holds messages for these days of oppression. Read more on the psalm itself in previous posts, such as July 2017 and September 2014.

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How will South Woden approach this repetition over the coming months? Each occurrence includes the first six verses, then adds a small section from progressively later points in the story. If this were a bible study, then each and every verse should be included fully. Here, an impressionist approach will serve the cause, leaving space for worship leaders to draw on specific verses as suits their message each week.

In past years, we have chosen a common antiphon refrain for all occurrences, our small group of Singers in the South leading with a harmonised quote from the first part of a setting for five voices by Lassus:

‘Give glory to the Lord, and call upon his name’. Verse 1 quoting a Lassus psalm setting.

Limitations during isolation and online worship preclude this approach, which really sought collegiate and enjoyable participation and learning, group exploration of largely unknown musical territory.

An easy approach is to recite the verses and then sing the Taizé setting Confitemini Dominus (listen>) each week. However, this does not quite achieve the idea of singing the psalm itself.

Taking a simplified and economical approach, we shall use one recording of the psalm for all four Sundays. It will include that opening section and a few verses selected from the other Lectionary brackets. This is one of those songs that concludes with a Hallelujah. The refrain therefore includes a prayer from verse 3 together with the final Hallelujah.

Like all measures to economise, there are some disadvantages. Both leaders and worshippers may have to adjust: the former may find that a favoured verse or two have been omitted; the latter may need to read the Lectionary verses of the day separately to gain the full spread of the psalmist’s commentary on the sojourn in Egypt and the Exodus to the promised land.

At the other end of the complexity scale, here is Confitemini Domino, the setting by Orlando di Lasso referred to above. Patroclinum musices was the title of a series of publications of the extensive oeuvre of Lassus in Munich from 1573.

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