Psalm 118, Easter 16 Apr 17

All this was written long ‘BCE’, of course. But the idea is carried forward to the New Testament, with Jesus revealed as the stone in the first letter of Peter, appropriately enough as the apostle who was named ‘stone’: “To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe, ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner,’ and ‘A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall.’ They stumble because they disobey the word … But now you are God’s people … now you have received mercy.” (I Pet. 2:7-10)

Freiburg-im-BreisgauVisitors 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 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.

Justice

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)

In the 11th century Archbishop Wulfstan of York (d.1023) wrote them into draft proclamations by King Cnut. 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, 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. The psalms tell us that the concepts of justice and equity emanate from the just Creator spirit at the beginning of time.

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, the struggle must go on. Buyers of The Big Issue, an Australian charity magazine, may have seen a special edition devoted to the growing gap between rich and poor. Will such truths ever convince societies and governments? That corner-stone appears in verse 19. The stone that was rejected became the chief cornerstone of a new world of faith, a new system of justice and life. There is not always a keystone at the top of arches but it’s common enough. However arranged, a key block is the chief cornerstone in holding a structure together.

The 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. 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

This detail is included 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 head at the top of the arch or corner of walls, holding it all together.

Music'Laudate Dominum'; detail from a motet by Lassus

There are dozens of classical 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, in a way, 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.

A building in Augsburg bears a plaque recording the fact that therein, 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.

By way of contrast, in style if not underlying message, The Building Block by Paul Stookey mentioned above has long been a favourite. A cantor sings paraphrased verses, the people responding with joy, vigour and, of course, good harmony parts.

As a reading for Easter, there are a swag of settings in Psalms for all seasons to choose from. An old favourite tune suggested therein is ‘This is the day‘. It’s quite repetitive, but this suggests a possible antiphonal approach, one group serving a phrase (con brio of course) and another group volleying it back.

NCH presents one of Carolyn Jennings simple and effective refrains: “The righteous shall enter the gate of God.” Verses may be sung to a double tone.

Psalm 31, Palm Sunday, 9 Apr 17

Palms in the KimberleyThe Lectionary readings for Holy Week and Easter include this psalm. You may have noticed that there are two psalms listed for Palm Sunday, the liturgies of the palms and that of the passion.

This psalm combines many common themes of supplication, distress, trust and courage in diversity. It is a rich psalm, combining feelings of confidence and security together with a sense of danger, sorrow and dismay in which the divine refuge and blessing are earnestly sought and highly valued: “I have taken refuge (v.1) … incline your ear to me (v.2) … be my strong rock (v.3)”. Reading the text, you would almost think that this is another of those penitential psalms. What net, we wonder, has been set for David this time? Intrigue, hatred and jealousy amongst competitors or unbelievers, or just common old greed and selfishness? Enduring all this cunning, he recognises the need for some assistance from the ‘tower of strength’ and the ‘God of truth’ (vv.4, 5) Then in verse 5 we find words that the dying Jesus quoted:

Into your hands I commend my spirit

As always, the choice of music depends on a leader’s chosen theme.

  • If resignation of the spirit to divine power and care along the lines of verse 5 is preferred, the refrain from The Emergent Psalter would suit. It swings along quite nicely but has a definite air of lamentation about it. The psalm itself mixes that feeling with strong lines of petition and trust.
  • NCH has two refrains, the first emphasising the rock and fortress of faith, and the second asking for heavenly grace: “Let your face shine upon your servant.”
  • Finally (and quite refuting ‘the-theme-is-the-main-thing’ line) the best wine kept till last: celebrating hope and help in time of trouble, the two-part antiphonal setting in Psalms for all seasons 31C by AnnaMae Meyer Bush and Kathleen Hart Brumm is a favourite. This beautiful and thoughtful response is strong on melody, harmony and meaning, picking up a rather mysterious but powerful promise in verse 15: “My times are in your hands.” That’s only one of four good statements of belief rolled into this antiphon, which continues: “… You strengthen me in strife. My hope is in your word. Your love preserves my life.” This nicely harmonised response follows an easy, descending path of similar phrases. Easily learned, nice to sing. Verses may be sung to a similar chord progression. The main tune is quite a high setting but there is a second lower part acting as an echo voice which adds an excellent dynamic and antiphonal element.

Psalms for palms; 118, 31

Entry gate, Le ThoronetAfter a couple of opening verses of Psalm 118 proclaiming divine goodness and mercy, the lectionary (liturgy of the palms) cuts to the second half. As Jesus enters the gates of Jerusalem, so here:

Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter them and praise God. (v. 19)

Old farm cottage museum, Moudeyres

That corner stone now appears. The stone that was rejected became the chief cornerstone of a new world of faith, a new system of justice and life. There is not always a keystone at the top of arches, like the entrance depicted in the first photograph, but it’s common enough.

In the next photo of an old farmhouse, the corner blocks are evidently larger and act as bonding keystones in the corner of the old building. Either way, something has a central role of chief cornerstone in holding a structure together. Several oft-quoted lines follow:Palm in Vence

This is the day that God has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it (v.24)

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God (v.26)

Give thanks to God, whose mercy endures forever (v.29

Oh! and don’t forget that it’s Palm Sunday:

Form a procession with branches (v. 27)

See also earlier discussion, including reference to King Henry VIII’s Psalter, in posts such as as 29 March and 5 April 2015.

Psalm 31

Whether we need a double helping or not, the liturgy of the passion for the same day serves up another set of readings, including Psalm 31. This is one of those cries for help in times of deep distress. I shall say no more at this stage, there being a previous post on the subject, other than to declare an allegiance to the beautiful and thoughtful two-part antiphonal setting in Psalms for all seasons 31C by AnnaMae Meyer Bush and Kathleen Hart Brumm. We sometimes sing both psalms, 118 on the way in with branches.

Music

I’ve mentioned PFAS 31C above. As always the choice of music depends on a leader’s chosen theme. Thus:

  • Palms at Percy Isif the corner stone is preferred as a symbol of establishing a new regime of grace, the choice could be TiS 74 or, as we have sung many times at South Woden, The Building Block by Peter Paul and Mary
  • If the eternal goodness and love of God is preferred, the refrain from The emergent psalter would suit — as long as you don’t mind a little music with a groove.
  • And 31 is hope and help in time of trouble.

Psalm 118 is also a reading for Easter, so there are a swag of settings in Psalms for all seasons to choose from. Canberra group Polifemy will sing a varied early music program with recorders, including William Byrd’s lively setting of this psalm Haec dies this Sunday at Wesley UC, 3pm.

Skip and jump; 37, 92, 138

A matter of balance

Plenty of skip and jump in the Australian Open at this time of the year — despite the heat!

The poetic moods in the psalms range from dark and penitent to skipping and jumping. Sometimes several moods mix in any one song, making the choice of a suitably supportive musical style challenging.

The title today is occasioned by a different issue, that of the psalms we do not hear. Some we jump because they did not make it into the Revised Common Lectionary (the numbers not in bold type in the lists in the Library and index pages).

Others we skip because something comes up. This year, it’s because Easter is quite early and we leap into Lent before exhausting all the ‘ordinary’ days in the season after Epiphany. (1)

This year, Year C, the songs we lose for Lent are 138, 1, 37, 92 and 96. Let’s have a quick look, noting that 1 and 96 are discussed elsewhere in this blog:

  • The first psalm, together with the second, form something of an introduction to the book. It’s a beautiful song and not to be missed, so worth a read during the weeks sometime
  • 96 is visited frequently, often sung in December in fact as it comes up for Christmas Day.

Psalm 37

This is a fairly long (40 verses) reflection on people who are good or evil. It encourages us towards the Clean-living Claude/ia end, not just to avoid wrath but because such values are associated with wisdom — an important theme in the psalms — and hence justice. (v.30) The psalmist says not to bother if the wicked appear to flourish, themes picked up by a couple of classical settings of interest:

  • Orlando di Lassus: in Latin for five voices, presenting verses 35-36 (Tweet: “The wicked flourish; now you see them, now you don’t”); and
  • William Byrd: in English for only three voices and thus more attainable for small singing groups, a setting of verse 25 alone which is about the other side of the coin:

I have been young but now am old, but never have I seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.

I wonder if there’s a minimum age for the singers for that one? More seriously, we have seen young and old, including children of good people and of all walks of life, begging for bread in tragic circumstances recently. We can only pray that both sides of the coin, fading wickedness, thriving ‘righteousness’ and justice, may be true of those who are causing their pain.

Palms in the Kimberley

Palms grow strong across northern Australia; these ones in the Kimberley.

Psalm 92

Psalm 92 also values the senior citizen, an idea that Everett picks up in his antiphon in The emergent psalter:

Those who are righteous shall flourish like a palm tree … they shall bear fruit in old age (verses 12-14)

The full psalm is much broader in scope, though, with encouragement to sing praises in the morning and the evening, with psaltery, lyre and harp. This theme resonates in the refrains in PFAS, as well as a nice Taizé setting by Jacques Berthier (Together in song 50)

Palms at Percy IsPsalm 138

This is another psalm “of David”, of thanksgiving and trust.

This song also appears in TiS, at number 86, a refrain that I cannot remember ever singing. I say refrain rather than tune, for TiS rather unusually instructs us: “Verses are to be spoken. It is effective … against a softly playing-background of instruments”. This style is the norm in The emergent psalter.

Note: Continue reading

Psalm 31, 29 March 2015

Palms at Percy IsTwo psalms are listed for Palm Sunday, for the liturgies of the palms and of the passion. In recent years we have sung both;  Psalm 118  on the way in and then Psalm 31 during the scripted service. This Sunday we confine our song to Psalm 31, with a response from Psalms for all seasons, no 31C.

But reading the text, you would almost think that this is another of those penitential psalms that have been mentioned recently.

There are many intertwined ideas in this psalm, and also in the nice refrain from PFAS. As mentioned in a previous post on Palm Sunday, the response is strong, picking up a rather mysterious but powerful promise in verse 15:

My times are in your hands.

That’s only one of four good snapshot statements of belief in this antiphon. The others:

You strengthen me in strife
My hope is in your Word
Your love preserves my life

Music

Palms in the KimberleyThis nicely harmonised response follows an easy, descending path of similar phrases. Easily learned, nice to sing. Verses will be sung to a similar chord progression.

The main tune is quite a high setting but there is a second lower part acting as an echo voice which would be very warming. If you can help by meeting early to learn and sing this supporting tune, please join in.

Singers please come early Sunday to refresh on this nice little tune.

 

Psalm 31, 13 April 14

You may have noticed that there are actually two psalms listed for Palm Sunday, the liturgies of the palms and that of the passion. A few days ago I posted on palms and Psalm 118 for this Sunday – but there’s no rule against a double-dip.

So we shall also enjoy Psalm 31, singing a response from Psalms for all seasons, no 31C.

14C hourglass, Basel museumAs usual there are many intertwined ideas in this song. The response is strong, picking up a rather mysterious but powerful promise in verse 15:

My times are in your hands.

That’s only one of four good snapshot statements of belief in this antiphon. It’s enough for now.

Music

This nicely harmonised response follows an easy, descending path of similar phrases. Easily learned, nice to sing. Verses will be sung to a similar chord progression.

The main tune is quite a high setting but there is a second lower part acting as an echo voice which would be very warming. If you can help by meeting early to learn and sing this supporting tune, please respond below:

15C clock, Basel museumNotes

1.   Followers who access these posts by email on smart-phone may encounter problems with response boxes. View on your computer browser or download the WordPress app.

2.   If you have not yet entered your prediction on the song for Easter Sunday (at the foot of the palm post), the hourglass is running.

3.  Both ancient timepieces depicted are in Basel. Here in Canberra at the National Library you may have seen the important Harrison clock itself in the recent exhibition Mapping our world. Important? It’s the one that solved the problem of finding longitude when navigating at sea.

Psalm 118, 13 Apr 14 – Palms

Palms in the KimberleyAn educational sign in the new Red Garden of our wonderful National Botanic Gardens tells us they are not sure if palms growing in remote corners of the Kimberley, like those depicted here, were native to Australia or imported with aboriginal people many thousands of years ago. Apparently there’s ‘some debate’ about it.

Pavement signage, NBGOn the other hand, another sign only a few metres away in the pathways tells us that at least some were relics of a more abundant past.

In any event, despite their various forms the particular shape of the palm frond is well known to many peoples; they grow here and there all over the world including around the Med and the scene of the entry into Jerusalem.

A palm psalm?

On both Palm Sunday and on Easter Sunday we are invited to hear Psalm 118, substantially the same readings except for a few verses.

There’s a lot to this psalm so it’s nice to visit and revisit on successive Sundays. Many phrases are familiar, bringing to mind songs that have featured them:

  • steadfast love
  • open the gates
  • the cornerstone
  • this is the day
  • one who comes in the name
  • you are my God, I will praise

Any tunes in your head?

Palm in VenceOh, and of course for Palm Sunday, there’s this:

The LORD is God, and he has given us light. Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar. (v. 27)

[Ray, where did we put those horns?]

Music

Recognising the continuity, we call both times upon an old favourite tune suggested in Psalms for all seasons; ‘This is the day‘. It’s quite repetitive, not a bad thing of course. It also suggests a possible antiphonal approach, one group serving a phrase (con brio of course) and another group volleying it back. All in all an enjoyable sing.

It is only a visit, though. Closer examination reveals that the three verses of this nice little Fijian song draw only on a few phrases from verses 19, 24 and 28 of the psalm – and 28 does not even make it into the Easter Sunday selection.

Never fear, further verses and another great song will follow on Easter Sunday. In fact, a Tim Tam at tea to the correct winner of the following multi-guess quiz. Which phrase will be the basis of the additional psalm song for Easter Sunday? (Select from the pull-down list)

But for this week:Palms at Percy Is

So much music, so few psalms;

one repeated never harms,

charming balms calm all alarms.

Don’t forget to bring some palms.

Yes, well, nice try.

Do I get any points for 7/7/7/7?