Psalm 118, Easter Sunday 2016

'Laudate Dominum'; detail from a motet by Lassus
Laudate Dominum‘; detail of one voice part from a motet by Roland de Lassus

Yes, it’s 118 again.

This is the day that the Lord hath made, that building block and several other ringing and memorable statements of hope and trust appear in this favourite. Not much new here, so a little ramble is in order.

Old farm cottage museum, MoudeyresThere are dozens of settings of this psalm, including some classical pieces by Renaissance and later composers. Lassus wrote one called Dominus mihi adjutor, starting with text from verse 6.

There’s one for 16 voices, four quartets, by German composer Michael Praetorius (1571-1621) that runs to 50 pages in one modern transcription. All parts are shown on each page so there are but four bars per page; those pages would flick by quite fast but it’s still a major work.

Praetorius (whose family name was originally Schultze, of rather less superior airs) was a German Lutheran. So, I suppose, was Martin Luther (1483-1546). Luther wrote a lot of words — poems, sermons and ideas — but also several songs, including the well-known Ein feste burg, ‘A mighty fortress’, based on (you guessed it) a psalm, in this case 48. So he was quite capable of running up a good harmony. Perhaps he spied verse 17 of this psalm from a hundred paces and was moved to write the short and sweet four-part motet, Non moriar sed vivam. No doubt the text fitted his mission perfectly:

I shall not die but live, and tell the works of the Lord.

Plaque on the rebuilt Damenhof where Luther advocated the centrality of justification by faith.
Plaque on the rebuilt Damenhof where Luther advocated the centrality of justification by faith.

While on the Lutheran track, I am reminded of calling in to the Martin Luther Church in Neukölln a while ago to chance upon an Indonesian community choir rehearsing a little cantata by another Lutheran, JS Bach. Multiculturalism at work — listen to them here>.

And another earlier post while Front Fencing: we came across the building in Augsburg in which Luther defended himself before the Papal investigation of 1518. His pleas fell on deaf ears, as we know (well, he was a bit rough on the Pope) and he went into hiding.

Get to the point

So where, precisely, is the cornerstone in this?
So where, precisely, is the cornerstone in this?

By way of contrast, in style if not underlying message, The Building Block by Paul Stookey has been our trusty companion each Easter for the last three years. If you’re on a good thing …

Our very own PPM-style trio (BBB), joined by several familiar guest singers, will present the verses and lead the rousing chorus again this year with guitar and bass.

The people respond, with joy, vigour and, of course, good harmony parts:

The building-block that was rejected became the cornerstone of a whole new world.

Skipping, 70, 64

A matter of balance

The Skip and jump series (see this earlier post of Jan 2016) started off to fill the gaps — the psalms we do not hear. Psalm 70 only qualifies if you do not observe daily worship for Holy Week (which is South Woden).

Those who do will hear (hopefully sing) this one on Wednesday thereof. (You will also hear 36 (Monday) and 71 (Tuesday) of that week; however, since those have already been the subject of posts when they came up elsewhere in the cycle, I make no further comment on those ‘gaps’.)

Nefertiti and Akhenaten, 1340 BCE
Feeling a little worse for wear? (Nefertiti and Akhenaten, 1340 BCE)

Psalm 70

The theme of the week is decidedly dark, foretelling the dolorous days leading up to Good Friday and Psalm 22 (‘abandonment’). In Ps.70, the psalmist’s distressed attention evolves:

  • from lament against ‘those who seek my life’ — let them be dismayed
  • toward those who seek divine deliverance — let them rejoice
  • to the humble singer-songwriter him- or herself — ‘you are my helper and deliverer’

The cryptic verse prize goes to verse 3:

Let those who say to me “Aha!” turn back in frustration.

What scene springs to your mind? The whole song is an almost exact repeat of Psalm 40:13-17. In 70, the song begins and ends with an urgent plea for divine action: while in 40, the psalmist ‘waited patiently for the Lord.’ Urgency, patience. Moods swing in our hearts: divine love is the same “yesterday, today and forever” (Heb.13:8).

Psalm 64

This one qualifies as a ‘skip’ because it never comes up in the lectionary. (It follows hot on the heels of another lacuna you can’t jump over, one that omits all nine psalms from 53 to 61 inclusive. Much material resides in those songs: but we must leave them for another day.)

Accusation or anunciationAs for Psalm 64 (a song attributed to David), it is quite short and does not seem to have attracted many composers, as there are comparatively few settings.

However, the poem will ring true for anyone who has been falsely accused, or even just been pained by loose and unfavourable gossip. It reminds me of a plot outline that a novelist might take and embellish:

Hide me from the conspiracy of the wicked … They hold fast to their evil course; they plan how they might hide their snares … “Who will see us? We have thought out the perfect plot”; for the human heart and mind are a mystery. (vv. 2-6)

The goodies will win, of course; ‘…all who see them will shake their heads.’ (v.8)

On another note, PFAS includes a prayer for refugees (64C) that causes us to pause and review the text from quite a different angle.

Remember this one? That was back in 1979. The commemorative postage stamp was a meagre 20c then!

And for what it’s worth, this is Post No 150, the same number as we have psalms in the psalter — albeit not of the same quality!

<– Remember this? Back then, in 1979 before email, the commemorative ordinary postage stamp was a meagre 20c!

Psalm 118, Easter Sunday 5 Apr 15

Not York; could be anywhere. In fact, it’s in Freiburg-im-Breisgau, Germany

Visitors to ancient cities like York enjoy discovering quaint and remote features: the Shambles; archaeological remains of successive eras under the cathedral; hidden misericordiae within, saints and gargoyles without.

The Shambles area provides just a hint of the chaotic life in early times; narrow alleys, stalls, clamour, smells and all sorts of behaviour, seen and unseen. Fairness and justice were features of common law but may have felt a little out of place here.



These overhanging buildings, now nicely renovated and refreshed, are only about 500 years old. Concepts of justice were built into English common law long before then.

The Magna Carta of 1215 is a famous example. Well before that, biblical precepts were being absorbed into official and secular mores by early rulers.

The Law Code II Cnut (London, British Library, Cotton MS Nero A I, f. 33r)
The Law Code II Cnut (London, British Library, Cotton MS Nero A I, f. 33r) More>

In the 11th century Archbishop Wulfstan of York (d.1023) wrote them into draft proclamations by King Cnut. A recent post by The British Library notes:

The Ten Commandments were a particularly important model for the drafting of Anglo-Saxon law codes. They are referenced in the laws of Alfred the Great (r. 871–899) and formed part of the preface to his law book, grounding the secular laws in biblical precedents.

God’s law is also specifically referenced in the longest Anglo-Saxon law code, which begins with the line, ‘I desire that justice be promoted and every injustice suppressed, that every illegality be eradicated from this land with the utmost diligence, and the law of God promoted’. This was issued by King Cnut (r. 1016–1035) with the advice of his counsellors. The text was drafted by Archbishop Wulfstan of York (d. 1023), and one of the eight surviving medieval manuscripts containing the text was produced in either York or Worcester in the 11th century. It was probably owned by the archbishop himself, and may contain his own annotations.

I have written previously how the psalms tell us that the concepts of justice and equity emanate from the just Creator spirit at the beginning of time. It should be in the DNA.

Building blocks

So here are some of the biblical building blocks of justice in the modern rule of law. They are fundamentally strong in this country despite some glaring blind spots. On the whole, however, despite centuries of law-making around the world, justice is still rough, equity lacking. (And as for equality, forget it. Buyers of The Big Issue, an Australian charity magazine, will recall a recent special edition devoted pages to the growing gap between rich and poor. How to convince societies and governments?)

Cornerstone, Penne FranceThe Easter story opens a new chapter of this search for justice and justification. We hear every year from Psalm 118 that Jesus was the building block, despised, rejected but destined to be the basis of a whole new world and a whole new way. This way recognises and compensates for our essential inability to keep the scales of justice and equity in true balance.

This is what we shall sing on Sunday, again using that familiar Paul Stookey tune. All singers welcome to meet early on Sunday. Brian will lead us in another good sing.

I haven’t said much about the psalm, have I? Read it here> and note a familiar verse 24, and this in 22:

The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.

Here is how that enduring and powerful text looked in the 1540 Henry VIII Psalter:

Psalm 118:22 (modern numbering), Henry VIII Psalter, BL Royal MS 2 A XVI
Psalm 118:22 (modern numbering), Henry VIII Psalter, BL Royal MS 2 A XVI

I include it not only for its intrinsic value but also to note that the Latin ‘caput anguli’ suggests it’s not the ‘chief’ in terms of size or weight, but the key at the top of the arch or corner of walls, holding it all together.

Psalm 22, 18 April 14

Good Friday is traditionally and appropriately a minimalist quiet moment of reflection.

As we saw last Sunday this psalm text, a harbinger of the dark moments in the story of Jesus, captures the mood perfectly. The setting will be that by Christopher Willcock in Together in Song No 9.

Psalm South Singers: there’s some nice harmonies in the full music parts; please review and add a harmony part on Friday.