Psalm 68, 1 June 2014

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness The merry month of May, with its beautiful autumn leaves and the busy international music festival, departs. Only three weeks to the shortest day of the year when Keith, returning from the wilds of Celtic islands in another hemisphere, will lead a worship service at South Woden at the Winter Solstice. But for this Sunday, it’s the first ten then the last four verses of Psalm 68.

The psalm

Between bookends at beginning and end of this psalm, consisting of verses of praise for divine power and ubiquity, comes a recitation of providence and caring for the people over the centuries:

Father of orphans and protector of widows is God in a holy habitation. God gives the desolate a home to live in, and leads out the prisoners to prosperity. (vv. 5 and 6)

IMG_3012The psalmist in the ‘bookends’ calls for the great kingdoms of the earth, their flags proudly flying in the national capitals of the world, to recognise the divine supremacy of ‘the rider in the heavens, the ancient heavens’ and invites us to lift songs of thanks and praise.

It’s hard not to link this grand call with verses like those quoted above emphasising care for the needy (v.10), the homeless and the poor who – as that quintessential observer of human nature Jesus observed (Mark 14:7) – regrettably are always with us.

So how does a government, or political or religious group that aspires to govern, honour that call and at the same time deny the homeless, refugee and persecuted; withdraw education and basic rights of freedom to women and girls; or weaken the social safety-net and leave these things to market forces? Our prayer is surely to gain the ideal of governance in the final verse:

Ascribe power to God … whose strength is in the skies. Awesome is the divine, who gives power to the people. (vv. 34, 35)

Music

Each week we try to find the tune and antiphonal response that fits the season and the sense and message of the readings. Each month we try to achieve a balance of styles and participation as well, such as the male voice group (thank you for a fine rendition of Psalm 66 last Sunday) and something in which our children can contribute their enthusiasm and voices.

On 1 June, we sing the verses answered by a people’s refrain:Ps68 Antiphon Tune 1Jun14

Sing to God O kingdoms of the earth, sing to God who rides the ancient skies above. (vv 32-33)

The tune is a simple ascending and descending major scale that we shall sing as a round against a simple repetitive harmonic pattern. The congregation sings two parts, part 2 starting at bar 2, while the children repeat just the first phrase in a simpler and more easily learned part.

And for a little more … Continue reading

Psalm 2, 2 March 2014

The nations, 1698. Image: Wikimedia commons

The nations, 1698. Image: Wikimedia commons

Psalm 2 has a very modern message, as

nations conspire and people plot in vain; the rulers of the earth set themselves and leaders take counsel together … ‘Let us cast their cords from us’. (v.1-3)

Rulers seeking to throw off the ‘bonds’ of God.

This author will be the first to recognise that there is a lot to be said for separating church and state. That is not the same as governments ignoring or running counter to ethics and values recognised by humanists, Christianity and most major religions of the world.

The excellent exhibition Mapping our world at the National Library of Australia is redolent with the manoeuvring and politics of exploration and possession, sometimes in the name of God, sometimes in that of nationalism, empire or commerce.

Back to music. In amongst the sheep going astray, feeding of the flock and the hallelujahs of The Messiah by George Frederic Handel (1685 to 1759, so almost an exact contemporary of J S Bach), behold this text turns up in full force.

It’s not so surprising, perhaps, as you sing along with the story of this oratorio to find that the maestro has snuck in some of this rage to wake us up in a furious chorus Let us break their bonds asunder (from v. 3).  It’s one of the show-stoppers, sometimes omitted since it’s fiendishly difficult when taken at a gallop.

Maybe we should slip this in as the antiphon this Sunday to keep us on our toes! What say you? Have a listen here >>

Then again, we might actually take a much easier response (final choice to be confirmed) from The New Century Hymnal by Carolyn Jennings, with much milder but more comforting words from the final phrase of the psalm (v. 12):

Happy are all who take refuge in God

A light burden

who promises, according to Matthew 11: 30 and another chorus in The Messiah

my yolk is easy and my burden is light.