Being a song of Asaph, the historical setting — north and south kingdoms of Israel as it then was, suppression by foreign powers, dissension between the twelve tribes, a ‘bowl of tears to drink’ — is the backdrop to Psalm 80.
This might not mean much to the modern day listener. The message, however, is clear and timeless: during stressful times then and now, a gracious divine spirit has led the people like a shepherd; and that includes all tribes, fractious though they be. An optimistic and trusting Asaph therefore calls upon God:
Restore us, O God of hosts; shine your presence and we shall be saved. (3, 7 and 19)
Note that this prayer appears in three separate verses almost verbatim. It is clearly intended as an internal antiphon. For more comments and a review of some of the widely diverse musical settings associated with this strong poem, please see the master page ‘Psalm 80: Shine upon us’.
At South Woden the congregation is, with due care and caution, resuming gathering together. This is an important step forward, albeit one which is not advisable for all members. For some it provides a welcome chance to see friends in person after months of video meetings. For others whose health is more vulnerable, online video will be available to include as many members as possible, whether their presence be physical or virtual in a hybrid worship service.
Although no congregational singing is allowed under local edicts, it will be a Taizé service. A small singing and instrumental group will provide leadership, other music drawn as ‘normal’ during pandemic times from online sources.
This poses a challenge for the Psalms in the South leader; no Taizé chant uses Psalm 80 to any close degree; and the repeating refrain provided by Asaph is too strong a cue to ignore. Some of the available settings are tuneful and lyrical but stand in contrast to the quiet, reflective, repetitive, chants of Jacques Berthier.
The cantors will present a modest refrain based on verse 3, with other verses sung antiphonally to the same tune pattern.