‘Sing for joy, for you judge people with equity, and guide nations’ (4)
This psalm sometimes appears around the beginning of May, depending on the fall of Easter. May Day has relatively recently become a day for the workers. Originally it just celebrated the coming of the northern hemisphere spring, bonfires at the end of April, singing and dancing.
Such happiness is resonant with themes in several other psalms — relief from the winter of oppression and conflict, safety after threat, peace after conflict.
This song also calls for singing and dancing, maypole or not. However, there’s no lamentation here; spirits are soaring. I was reminded of a surprise encounter a few years ago with some soaring festival street art in an aerial ballet. The reason for joy is important:
May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known upon earth. (1-2)
This short psalm (quite reminiscent of the Aaronic blessing of Numbers 6) is in a mirror structure, beginning and ending with a prayer for blessing. Equity, guidance — and singing — nestle in the middle, verse 4. Around May Day, the song is associated with different readings during the cycle, but in one year appears with selections from Acts, John and Revelation, almost as if offered for all rejoicing situations mentioned in those tales:
- Lydia in Philippi listening to Paul
- The disciples hearing Jesus: “Peace I leave with you”
- A sick man at the pool in Jerusalem, hoping for and finding healing
- People in the city of God with its river of life, no need of lamp nor sun
The eye-catching musical offering below is Tallis‘s Canon, for ‘meane, countertenor, tenor and bass’, from The Whole Psalter Translated by Archbishop Parker, 1567. Catchy because it’s a well known round All praise to thee, my God, this night — but with full harmony.
A simpler but pretty refrain from The Emergent Pslater happens also to be in the form of a round. Sides of a congregation can thus sing it like an Aaronic blessing upon each other. The paraphrased verses are sung antiphonally by a small group using the same tune.