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.


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


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.


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?]


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?