Psalm 105, 30 Jul 17

Psalm 105 is a song of praise, as indeed are 106 and 107 that follow. The opening lines sound familiar, as such phrases occur throughout the Bible: Confitemini Domino et invocate nomen ejus / Give glory to God, and call upon his name

The next verse narrows the focus to set the theme as historical narrative, evidence that has provided confidence for such praise: Annuntiate inter gentes opera ejus / Declare God’s deeds among the peoples. A psalm singer in the temple or perhaps by a campfire in early times would have known that his audience would conjure up a host of stories and images relating to the era, the plagues, the Passover and the escape from Egypt. By telling and repeating, singing the familiar tunes and lyrics, people learned their history, culture, lessons from tales of the past and, osmotically perhaps, values. The song goes on to enumerate these tales but even so, one of the morals of the story is all the more striking: leaders must arise who are right for the time.

Perhaps this repetitive approach is why the lectionary provides the opportunity to revisit this psalm three times, with slightly differing verse selections, in the space of a little over a month. The music leader can achieve continuity by using the same style and response for all three appearances of this psalm.

A beautiful five-part setting of Psalm 105 by Lassus has been mentioned previously. Lassus, together with Palestrina in Italy, Byrd in England and Victoria in Spain, was one of the pillars of Late Renaissance music. The full work may be beyond the resources of small churches but extracts can be useful for a thematic refrain:

Verses associated with this refrain might best be sung to a traditional psalm tome. These tones were designed to allow clarity of the words in the vast spaces of cathedrals and monasteries with their reverberant acoustics. Sung by voices in unison they have their own special atmospherics. A quick scan through the Missal published by Monks of Solesmes does not reveal any particular tone associated with Psalm 105. However, Tone VIII is used for various other sung liturgical elements.

A common approach was the use of a particular tone during one service for several psalms. The author has attended a couple of Tallis Scholars summer schools, during which the order of service for Compline — the last office of the day usually at 9:00 pm — used Tone VIII for all psalms sung each night. Singing several psalms morning, noon and night, the monks would complete the cycle of singing all 150 psalms in the space of a fortnight.

As to more modern sources:

  • PFAS suggests a refrain comprised entirely of the word Alleluia repeated several times.
  • TEP’s refrain does something similar, preceding that celebration with an invitation to sing praise.
  • Still on a joyful theme but less exuberantly, NCH uses verse 3, ‘Let the hearts of those who seek God rejoice’, set to a refrain whose 5/4 time renders it more unusual.
  • Some years ago at South Woden the Lassus quintet mentioned above was a source of great joy. This year, a home-grown refrain and verses in gospel style will be used on all three occurrences of Psalm 105.

Psalm 78, 9 November 2014

Psalm 78 is a plea, a promise and a pledge to tell the old, old stories — for those who went before us, for us, and for those who will follow.

God … appointed a law in Israel and commanded our ancestors to teach to their children; that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and rise up and tell them to their children (vv. 5, 6)

This Sunday our children lead us in our gathering, our thoughts and our prayers. Ably guided by some very dedicated mentors, they have frequently surprised and delighted us with the quality and range of their ideas, stories, insights and sentences. This week we are no doubt in for another treat as they become the storytellers.

Just as historical narrative is a central theme in the psalms, so this psalm is pretty much in the middle of the book, which is surely just one big river of stories, tales, and reflections on the flow of history of people seeking divine blessing. Such stories are necessary, says Where the stories begin, a blog by Jan Richardson quoting Psalm 78, and shared for us today by Rev R.

The psalm will be sung in the form of TiS 636 God has spoken, to a great traditional Hasidic Jewish tune.

Barriers

I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have heard and known; we will not hide them (vv. 2-4)

Graffiti on a remnant of the Berlin Wall, East Side Park.

Stories of folly and failure deserve to be told just as much as the heroic or the parable. The psalms pull no punches, but their poetical commentary helps us lift our vision and hopes.

I cannot help but notice that this Sunday is also the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. What a story surrounds that folly, built in 1961 and standing for nearly three decades as an arrogant symbol of human narrowness, selfishness and intolerance.

May barriers fall for us all again on Sunday as stories unfold.

(More on The Berlin Wall … Continue reading